State GOP Chair Kirby Wilbur: Passionate and Pragmatic

This past January, Kirby Wilbur was swept into the office of Washington State Republican Party Chairman on a wave of Tea Party support. But unlike many tea-partiers, Kirby has been a fixture in Washington State Republican politics for decades.

Maybe that’s because it’s in his blood. He was born in Washington, D.C., moving to the other side of the country when he was only eight. He first took notice of politics, however, during the 1964 election. His parents weren’t especially political. They voted for Kennedy in 1960 but felt Johnson was the wrong choice in 1964. Wilbur, like most kids that age, threw his support behind the same candidate as his parents, Barry Goldwater. Unlike many, though, he was very passionate about that choice and was one of only six in his class to wear a Goldwater button. The majority of the others supported Johnson.

His first real involvement, and the first time he got his name in the Seattle Times, came a few years later in High School when he and a friend decided to rip down a “Che Guevara” flag that a group of SDS students had put up in place of the US flag in one of the classrooms. After grabbing it and running out of the room, he and his friend planned to hold a public burning of the flag.

“If they were going to go around burning my flag I was going to burn theirs,” Wilbur says.

When the leader of his school’s SDS movement confronted him, demanding that he give him his flag back, Wilbur questioned the student’s communist philosophy. “You’re flag? I thought you believed in collectivism. This flag belongs as much to me and as it does to you.”

The following day he was able to gather his fellow conservatives, the media and a couple hundred other students, most of whom, while not as passionate about politics as Wilbur, weren’t big fans of the SDS. When his rival showed up and threatened to call the police Wilbur again questioned his philosophy. “You mean the same police who you were calling ‘pigs’ just the other day? Now that you need something you’re going to call them?” In the end, Wilbur, showing some of the pragmatism and diplomacy he carries with him today, chose not to burn the flag. Instead he returned it but only under the condition that it wouldn’t be displayed again unless a majority of the Queen Anne High School student body voted for it. There was never an election.

Today he’s not as confrontational as he was in those days. In fact, he finds the personal nature of politics to be its ugliest side. He has many liberal friends who he enjoys discussing politics with but believes the personal and sometimes violent nature of things, like name calling and the keying of cars because someone has a bumper sticker you disagree with, have no place in politics.

He doesn’t expect the negativity of politics will ever go away, though, and points to the fact that we’ve come a long way as a nation in becoming more civil despite what some may claim from the podium or the press. He blames much of the misconception on our 24/7 news cycle.

He also believes negative politics are here to stay because, despite what people may say to pollsters about how much they hate the negativity, negative politicking works. And of course, he adds, one person’s truth may be another one’s negativity. “At least we’re not holding duels in Lafayette Park anymore!”

An avid historian, Wilbur also shares a story about the 1800 presidential campaign, during which Jefferson was accused of being an atheist and opponents spread rumors that he’d seize everyone’s Bible’s if elected. (Ed. – Something those who through out claims about Perry and Bachmann wanting to take away their religious freedoms might take note of.)

He does feel that the Republican Party could spend more time on promoting its issues though.

“If you look at the last few elections in Washington State you’ll notice that even heavily Democratic areas like Grays Harbor County voted overwhelmingly for anti-tax initiatives. In fact, during the 2010 election, there was a double-digit spread in 30 out of 39 counties between Democratic victories and anti-tax initiative victories. Sure, there are some Patty Murray Democrats who are anti-tax, but not that many. I think that shows there’s a disconnect between what the Republican Party actually stands for and what many voters feel the Republican Party might stand for.”

On the issue of political parties he’s clear. While Washington warned his successors against forming parties, he believes Washington was a strict constitutionalist and therefore didn’t see the need for parties.

“If we were to follow the letter of the constitution, which gives government a very defined role, there would be no need for parties.” But Wilbur also realizes that the debate between strict constitutionalism and a broader view of government’s role has been going on since the time of Jefferson and Hamilton and, as long as it does, there will always be a need for political parties. Furthermore, he believes in the two-party system.

“The only perfect candidate for me is me and the only perfect candidate for you is you. Having multiple parties brings chaos,” he says, referencing the nature of multi-party, parliamentary systems like the United Kingdom.

And because he believes in the efficacy of a two-party system, he also believes in the idea of the “big tent.”

“The Republican Party’s core values are basically economic.” He welcomes libertarian minded people into the fold because they basically believe in a limited roll of government.

“Our differences on issues like abortion basically come down to where we believe life begins.” He adds that, although he welcomes pro-choice libertarians into the party, he will continue to fight for the pro-life stance in the Republican Party’s platform.

What three things would he like to see done to reform election and campaign law?

1. He’d like to see registration by party; Republican, Democrat, Independent. “It’s about the primary. Parties are like a club and only members of the club should be allowed to select their own representatives. Having an open primary is like having the Elk’s Club President being elected by Rotarians.” He thinks one way around this would be to return to the days when we had party conventions but he’d also be okay with a traditional closed primary.

2. He’d like to see us return to poll-only voting with no absentee ballots unless there’s a legitimate reason. “I may have a Norman Rockwell view but I just like the idea of everyone going to the polls; people being able to interact with their neighbors.”

3. He’d like to see campaign donation limits lifted but have immediate reporting. “Donations are a form of speech and should not be restricted be they from individuals, corporations or unions. If I want to give a candidate a million dollars I should be able to do that. He will then, of course, have to weigh the impact of taking that donation.” He doesn’t believe that money is as big an influence on politics as some think. “Politicians don’t sell their votes. When people give to a candidate they’re doing so because of that person’s ideology.”

When it comes to the issue of term limits he believes politicians should limit themselves but ultimately let the voters decide. “Term limits lead to lazy voters. If they know the guy in office is going to be out at the end of that term they don’t worry as much about what he’s doing.”

He does like the idea of limiting the terms of congressional staffers or at least rotating them around since they often have much more knowledge and, therefore power, than the senators and representatives they serve.

Ultimately though, he believes the only way to limit the corruption that comes along with things like big money donations, lobbyists and lifetime congressmen is to limit the size and scope of government. “Lobbyists are just doing their job. If politicians had no ability to hand out all those favors there’d be no reason for there to be as many lobbyists.”

As for Wilbur’s “best” moment of his political career, “meeting Reagan at the White House in 1983. We were looking at a collection of plates on a shelf inside the Oval Office when he walked in. Before we even heard or saw him we felt his presence.”

Farewell, Sam, and Thanks for Your Service

Secretary of State Sam Reed announced his intentions not to run for a third term next year and, in doing so, enters the coda of a 35-year career as an elected official.

I’m not big on career politicians. In fact, I think we need to impose term-limits on all offices. The propensity for corruption or lack of commitment to the values one held when they first entered the snake pit that is elective politics seems to be just too great for many and they end up compromising too easily. Sam, however, is the all too rare exception and I think the fact that he’s been skewered by members of his own party as often as he has by the opposition is a good indicator of that.

I first befriended Sam in 2004 when he was running a relatively easy campaign for reelection and I was running a quixotic one in the Heartland of Liberalism, Seattle’s 43rd Legislative District. I was a bit more liberal back then, tepidly supporting things that many “Seattle Republicans” tend to and I suppose that may have helped to forge my admiration of Sam. But even as I have become significantly more conservative in my views while Sam’s have remained the same, I’ve continued to admire him and the service he has performed to this state. Do we agree on everything? No. But I will always jump to Sam’s defense because, throughout his career, he’s always been a beacon of civility, largely above the partisan fray, and more importantly, honest in upholding the law even when it meant allowing outcomes he would rather have seen reversed.

During that famous saga which was the aftermath of the 2004 gubernatorial race, Sam was nearly burned in effigy for certifying the results despite the shady business that went on in King County. While us Rossi supporters were greatly upset by the eventual outcome of that contest and all the shenanigans that helped elect Gregoire, Sam’s decision was not among them. Unfortunately, because of the way state law was written, it wasn’t his place to second guess, in a legal sense, what went on at King County Elections. It was simply to certify the results he was given, a rubber-stamp operation if you will. His hands were tied. And if the tables had been turned, if a Democratic Secretary of State had refused to certify an closely contested election with a Republican victor on the second recount, I’m sure quite a few Republicans would have been calling for him to “do his job”.

And if Sam hadn’t chosen to follow the law, the courts would have still ended up making the same decision but, in addition to not having Rossi as governor, the Republican party would have been embroiled in a scandal the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades (even if that scandal may have been largely trumped up on partisan grounds). No, Sam did the right thing. If we choose to play dirty then we are no better than those who we detest for doing so. A victory won at the cost of dishonesty is not a victory at all. If Nixon taught us nothing else he taught us that.

But not only did Sam do his job on that occasion despite a strong outcry from within his own party, before the dust had even settled he sought to make sure that the Dino Debacle wouldn’t happened again and introduced several pieces of legislation which alleviated many of the problems that had occurred.

And that is but a single example of countless good deeds he’s accomplished in the areas of elections, charity regulation and trade during his three and a half decades in public service.

We need more folks like Sam who realize that, ultimately, honesty and civility will rule the day. (And, incidentally, from what I’ve heard about the woman who seeks to fill his shoes, Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman, I’d say we’re in good hands.)

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t live in fantasyland (I wouldn’t be the political stripe I am if I did). Partisan sniping and mudslinging have been a mainstay of American politics since before we were a nation. My own ancestor, Congressman Roger Griswold, is famous for being the first legislator to engage in a physical altercation while on the floor of Congress, beating Congressman Matthew Lyon with his cane after the latter spit on him, a scene replicated in varying degrees and often during the early days of our nation and which make disagreements of today look downright innocent. But all of that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t applaud people like Sam for being the pillar of civility that he has been and seek to encourage our other elected officials, pundits and political operatives to do the same.

Good luck to you in your remaining year and a half in the corner office, Sam, and for the many years after during which I have no doubt you will continue to champion civility and good government in a more private role.

The Excellence of Private Sector Solutions

The school year is coming to an end and at Bellevue’s Eastside Academy a group of eleven teenagers is preparing to graduate. But these kids are not like most graduating Seniors in America. When they don their cap and gown in a few weeks it will be an accomplishment far greater than that of the majority of their peers, for these students are part of a relatively new school, founded just nine years ago, that reaches out to teens that have been rejected by nearly everyone else, including, in some cases, themselves. Before coming to Eastside Academy most of these kids had problems with drugs, alcohol and the law. They’d already been expelled from the public school district and some hadn’t attended class in years. But through the great attention paid to them by Executive Director Toni Esparza and her staff at Eastside Academy these bright young minds, once destined for a prison cell or even a life cut short, now have a new chance at life and that renewed sense we all shared in our early years, that anything is possible. Amongst the graduating class at Eastside Academy this year are future attorneys, airline pilots, teachers and doctors.

One such student, Lyric Hammond, will also be honored next week by the Rotary Club of Seattle Skyline with a $500 scholarship toward her higher education expenses. She was chosen for this award in part because of the moving essay that she submitted in which she writes of her journey from drug addict to aspiring neurosurgeon.

Several more inspiring stories of success from Eastside Academy students are here.

Eastside Academy has helped its students achieve amazing results; students who the government had already given up on. It achieved these results in no small part because of its whole person approach to education. It holds classes at First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue and, while not a religious school –anyone can attend Eastside Academy regardless of his faith or lack of it– the school does bring in an outside speaker on a regular basis to talk about issues of faith, civility or other topics that would almost certainly be shunned in our public schools. This approach, along with programs like the Student of the Month, which honors student by inviting them to lunch at the Rotary Club of Seattle Skyline, and giving them an award, has inspired these great kids to reach for goals that just a few years ago they would never have even dreamed.

Eastside Academy is proof that, to achieve the dreams we all hold of great success for even the least among us, we don’t need to continue sending more and more money to Washington, D.C. or Olympia for education programs that have continued to fail us. Americans are the most generous people on Earth and also posses an incredible drive, ingenuity and entrepreneurship. Eastside Academy’s annual budget is modest, raised by donations from the private sector; and their bureaucracy is small. This wonderful school has the flexibility and ingenuity to bring about the change that so many politicians speak but seldom deliver. Why not give the private sector a chance? We’ll be pleased with the results.

Capitalism in Action

Young capitalist Jimmy Winkelmann saw through the irony of thousands of couch potatoes sporting North Face gear, calling them all “sheep”, and decided to start his own company, the South Butt, to poke fun at them. Now the North Face is telling Winkelmann to cease and desist and threatening to sue for trademark infringement. Winkelmann is being represented by attorney Albert Watkins for “a really good bottle of burgundy”.

What’s ironic about this case and what the North Face doesn’t realize (or maybe they do and are just blinded by their own impressions of righteousness) is that, by threatening to sue Winkelmann, they’ve unleashed a firestorm of positive media coverage for the boy.
Good luck to you, Jimmy. I’m running over to right now and purchasing my own South Butt t-shirt.

Basher 52

Captains T.O. Hantford, Scott O'Grady, and Bob...
Captains T.O. Hantford, Scott O’Grady, and Bob Wright at a press conference after O’Grady’s rescue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On June 2, 1995, the 29-year-old U.S. Air Force Captain Scott O’Grady was shot down by an antiaircraft missile while he was helping to enforce the NATO no-fly zone over Bosnia. With the aircraft exploding around him, O’Grady grabbed his ejection handle and pulled. Five miles up and traveling at 350 miles per hour, O’Grady had escaped certain death, but death would have many more chances during the next six days and nights that O’Grady eluded the Bosnian Serbs who relentlessly hunted him. At times his pursuers stood five feet from his hiding places, guns at the ready, listening for the slightest sound, but he did not let this phase him in any way that could give away his position. He survived on leaves, ants, and his faith in God. When this adventure was over he was hailed by America as a hero. He appeared on talk shows, made speeches, and visited the White House, but through all this he remained the same selfless person he had always been. On this second anniversary of the downing of O’Grady’s F-16 I am taking a look back at his experience and attitude toward life and reflecting on why I call him my hero. Reading his book and hearing him speak always fills me with pride for my country and reverence for him. The most noble attribute I admire in him is his faith in God. During his parachute decent the winds were blowing hard, in the “wrong” direction. He was in danger of landing in an open field or on the highway where being captured by the Bosnian Serbs would have been inevitable. He tried desperately to steer his way toward the forest but his attempts were futile, so he just relaxed and prayed. He writes in the fifth chapter of his book, Return to Honor, “At the end the wind did indeed take mercy–or maybe someone greater had a hand at my back.” After dangling past two miles’ worth of terrain over the course of his drop, he landed just fifty yards beyond the road. Better yet, he wasn’t stuck in a tree or exposed in some farmer’s backyard. He’d skimmed into a small, empty clearing of foot-high grass with woods all around. I believe it was this faith and trust in God that got him down on the ground safely and through the next six days he would spend behind enemy lines.

The second attribute I admire in O’Grady is his sense of humor and good spirits. All throughout his experience he always looked for the bright side of things. During several television interviews, reporters often asked what eating bugs was like. My favorite answer he gave was that the ants did not provide nourishment as much as they did excitement.  “They were hard to catch,” he exclaimed. He went on to say that he was glad to be the hunter and not the hunted. He also said that every time he was not caught by the Serbs it was a small victory for him and made him want to jump for joy. Looking for the silver lining in life makes getting through the roughest moments that much easier, and O’Grady had the roughest of them all.

When O’Grady arrived back at Aviono AFB in Italy he was called a hero. At this he made a speech in which he thanked his heroes, the “men and woman of the Marine Corps and US Navy.” I would like to thank him for being a hero to me as well as millions of other people.