Politics & Government

Optimism, division loom as state Republicans gather in Pasco (w/video)

Alternate delegate Dave Purdy of Pasco on the 2016 Washington State Republican Convention

Republican alternate delegate Dave Purdy of Pasco shares his expectations about the 2016 Washington State Republican Convention being this week in Pasco.
Up Next
Republican alternate delegate Dave Purdy of Pasco shares his expectations about the 2016 Washington State Republican Convention being this week in Pasco.

Both are Republicans. Both are Tri-Citians.

And Jacob Heinen and Dave Purdy are both relatively new to politics.

But they couldn’t be farther apart when it comes to which presidential candidate they’re supporting heading into the state GOP convention in Pasco starting Wednesday .

“I feel like I have a choice between two Democrats,” Heinen said of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

The 2015 Richand High grad and college student is a delegate for the Benton County Republican Party and plans to support U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who earlier suspended his presidential campaign. This is the first presidential election he will be able to vote in.

Purdy, a 41-year-old IT worker from Pasco, is for Trump all the way.

“He’s actually got a lot of good things that can help our country out,” said the delegate alternate for the Franklin County Republicans. He’ll be able to participate this week if another county delegate can’t make it.

The convention for party faithful runs through Saturday at the TRAC center and will draw thousands of delegates, vendors, party officials, state and federal lawmakers and candidates.

George Pataki, former governor of New York and a past Republican presidential candidate, kicks off events May 18 at Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick. His appearance is sponsored by the conservative think tank Washington Policy Center.

Local and state party officials say the state convention isn’t about only the presidential election.

I didn’t want to be one of those people who complain about politics but don’t get involved.

Jacob Heinen, Richland GOP delegate

It’s an opportunity to rally support for the party’s presumed gubernatorial candidate, as well as get people excited for the dozens of elected positions in state and federal government up for grabs later this year.

Unifying the party behind a presumed presidential nominee typically starts at state conventions, where delegates are chosen for the national convention this summer in Cleveland.

“It’s going to be an exciting time,” said Washington Republican Chairwoman Susan Hutchison.

Political newcomers

Heinen didn’t get involved in the party this year with the intent of being a delegate. He said he was shocked when those in his precinct chose him as a delegate during the Republican caucuses in March.

“I didn’t want to be one of those people who complain about politics but don’t get involved,” he said.

He was originally a supporter of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, going over to Cruz’s camp when Rubio dropped out. Really, Heinen just wants a president who will limit government, he said.

Purdy said he first supported Ben Carson for president, donating to his campaign and getting involved in a super Political Action Committee supporting the neurosurgeon and self-described political outsider.

That outsider status also was what brought Purdy, and others he knows, into Trump’s fold when Carson bowed out. Purdy also likes Trump’s business experience and enjoyed watching him on his TV show, Celebrity Apprentice.

“We need to listen to the people,” Purdy said, noting that half the people who participated in a straw poll at the Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo last summer preferred Trump, Carson or Carly Fiorina as their preferred candidate, all non-career politicians.

Rallying conservatives at all levels

While Trump is now the only Republican candidate actively campaigning, there’s still debate on the division he sowed among Republicans during the rest of the primary season.

Brad Gregory, Franklin County Republicans chairman, said he’s supporting Trump and hopes he’ll accept an invite to the convention. But, he acknowledged, “There are people who are going to be contentious about (Trump’s nomination).”

Hutchison said time will tell if people get riled up over Trump’s nomination but she’s looking forward to watching Trump challenge Clinton.

In all, 41 of the state’s 44 delegates for the national Republican convention will be picked at this week’s event to represent Washington Republicans’ preference for president. That is determined by the primary election results on May 24.

More importantly, though, “we have the opportunity for the first time to unseat a sitting governor,” Hutchison said of Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat.

I think Eastern Washington is really going to come out to vote.

Susan Hutchison, Washington Republican chairwoman

Bill Bryant, a Seattle Port commissioner, is expected to formally launch his gubernatorial campaign at the convention.

Party officials also are optimistic they can gain full control of the state House this fall and note there’s a lot of excitement in the conservative movement in the state.

“I think Eastern Washington is really going to come out to vote,” Hutchison said.

Benefits, consequences of political theater

The convention is also about pomp and pageantry. Vendors will offer various patriotic goods. And country musician Chance McKinney will perform at a welcome reception the night of May 19.

The fury of the primary season ramped up interest in the election, drawing new people, like Purdy and Heinen, into the party.

“It’s been a crazy ride watching this thing,” Purdy said.

The party could have its work cut out for it when it comes to unifying members.

We could recover after four years of Hilary Rodham Clinton. I don’t know if we could recover from four years of a Trump administration.

Jacob Heinen, Richland GOP delegate

Heinen, who said he holds his principles over party loyalty, said it’s hard for him to see himself as a Trump supporter and knows others feel the same way. In the end, it’s going to come down to whether he thinks a Clinton presidency would be worse than a Trump presidency.

“We could recover after four years of Hilary Rodham Clinton,” Heinen said. “I don’t know if we could recover from four years of a Trump administration.”

Franklin County delegate LaWanda Hatch said she supported Cruz and was committed to supporting him at the convention but she’s gotten behind the Trump campaign in the interest of bringing the party together.

But she’s also excited for the convention as she works with the various teenage volunteers she’s recruited to set up and help at the event, knowing they are the party’s future.

“We want to introduce them to the delegate process,” she said, noting it isn’t something frequently taught in schools.

Heinen said his distaste for Trump hasn’t turned him off supporting other Republicans. He’s interested in helping with Bryant’s campaign and other conservatives seeking local office.

“We can still change things in Washington if not at the federal level,” he said.