Two candidates with distinct qualifications rose to the top in Saturday's election for state Republican chair. Luanne Van Werven of Lynden, the candidate with grassroots experience, finished second to Susan Hutchison, who had more star power as a former KIRO-TV anchor.
Van Werven won a plurality of the first ballot, taking 41 votes to Hutchison's 39. (117 state committee members from county party leadership were eligible to vote at the committee's meeting in Spokane.) But Hutchison took the second ballot, after supporters of the libertarian-leaning candidates on the first ballot swung to her.
The Politics Blog has been following Van Werven's run for state chair ever since she took over as interim chair, after the resignation of Kirby Wilbur less than a month ago. My story based on an interview today with Van Werven will appear in The Bellingham Herald tomorrow, but I post it at the very bottom here for you, prior to editing.
Here's the statement issued late Monday by the Washington State Republican Party:
Washington State Republicans Choose Dynamic New Leadership
Susan Hutchison Elected as Washington State Republican Party Chair
The Washington State Republican Party’s state committee members and county chairs voted Saturday to elect Susan Hutchison to be their next Chair by a strong majority vote of 59 to 46 on their second ballot, a decision that is being heralded as a step toward a more efficient and dynamic style of leadership. “My experience running for office in 2009, 25 years in media and 10 years working in the non-profit sector gives me the skills and experience needed for this job right now. I am looking forward to helping the voters elect good Republicans to work with good Democrats to do good for the citizens of the state,” Hutchison said.
In the wake of her election, Hutchison received warm congratulations from both grassroots activists, party officials and Republican elected officeholders, a wave of unbridled optimism about the future of Republicans in Washington State.
U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Spokane) offered her comments, saying:
"I'm excited by the election of Susan Hutchison to be State Party Chair. She gives me hope because she is a leader who will unify and present a positive vision for our party moving forward. Susan is a tremendously talented communicator. She will bring dynamic leadership and organization to our efforts to elect freedom loving individuals in Washington State. I am looking forward to working closely with her, to recruit the best possible candidates. She's smart, experienced, talented, and articulate in the conservative cause."
King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn gave his own high praise:
“Susan will rebuild the Republican Party to its full strength just like Jennifer Dunn did when she was chair and we had a Republican Governor and majorities in the State House and Senate."
Hutchison spent 20 years as an award winning news anchor at KIRO-TV in Seattle, and for ten years has been Executive Director of the Charles and Lisa Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences. In 2009 she won the primary for King County Executive.
Hutchison’s election fills the vacancy left by recently resigned Kirby Wilbur, a term in office that runs until January 2015. Attached to this release you will find a photograph for publication.
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Luanne Van Werven of Lynden, known in the Republican Party for her skills as a grassroots organizer, lost to ex-TV personality Susan Hutchison on Saturday, Aug. 24, in the race for state party chair.
The two of them are putting their differences aside and bringing their distinct talents to bear on a common goal: revive a party that typically operates in the shadow of the Democrats.
Van Werven, who said in an interview on Monday, Aug. 26, that she was disappointed with the result, will retain her position as state Republican vice chairwoman.
“As soon as the election was over, I offered my full support to Susan, and she has expressed that she is really looking forward to working as a team,” Van Werven said. “There’s not going to be any kind of awkwardness or difficulty because we both care about the same thing, which is the future of the Republican Party.”
Van Werven won the most votes — although not a majority — in the first ballot of the election, held among party officials at a state committee meeting Saturday in Spokane. Hutchison got the better of Van Werven on the runoff ballot.
Whatcom County Republican Chairman Charlie Crabtree voted for his friend Van Werven, saying she had the preferred qualifications. When Van Werven was county chairwoman in 2010, the Republicans swept all three seats in the 42nd Legislative District for the first time since the 1970s, Crabtree said.
“She was a big part of that,” he said.
“She’s a grassroots person,” Crabtree added. “She would get people out to volunteer, to put forward our values. … She had that experience, and the other candidate didn’t. My thought was, we should probably get somebody from the grassroots, but that didn’t carry the day this time.”
Hutchison, a former KIRO-TV anchor, is best known in the political arena for her unsuccessful run for King County executive in 2009.
“For the committee members, it mattered to them that we have the most effective spokesperson as chair, and a proven fundraiser,” Van Werven said. “Not that I didn’t have a lot of support, and I’m very grateful for that.”
Political media took notice when Hutchison, after Saturday’s election, said the state party was “nearly broke” with a “useless” website and a poor get-out-the-vote operation. The party’s prospects look bad, Hutchison said, compared to that of the Democrats.
“She did speak harshly towards the party,” Van Werven said, “but that is going back to previous administrations, where maybe technology wasn’t the top priority and fundraising wasn’t what it should be.” Van Werven said both she and Hutchison campaigned on improving technology and party organization at the county level.
Van Werven made a point of saying the state party was not broke and was making payroll — something she said she could confirm firsthand, having acted as party chair since the resignation of Kirby Wilbur on July 29.
“We don’t have debt,” Van Werven said. “Our finances are typical for this time of year — end of summer and coming off a major election year.”