Whatcom party leader ready to look ahead after losing race for state Republicans' top post

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDAugust 26, 2013 

Local Election Photo

Luanne Van Werven speaks at the Whatcom Republicans Election Night 2010 at the Homestead Farms Convention Center Tuesday November 2, 2010 in Lynden.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Luanne Van Werven of Lynden, known in the Republican Party for her skills as a grass-roots 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 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 grass-roots 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 grass roots, 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."

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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