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Tuesday, August 25, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Michelle Malkin

The Gop Vs. Conservatives: A Tale Of Two Political Picnics

Times Editorial Columnist

VASHON ISLAND (Aug. 22, 11:00 a.m.) - "REPUBLICANS UNITE." Those imperious words - more of a demand than a description - loom large on a regal-blue backdrop to the annual state GOP picnic.

This is supposed to be a gala honoring the grass roots, but party chairman Dale Foreman directs his effusive gratitude above the heads of the masses to the tycoon who singlehandedly bought and paid for the party's unwavering loyalty: convicted money-launderer Tom Stewart. A foaming Foreman exhorts the crowd to pay their respects to the business magnate who forced his employees and cajoled his friends to serve as illegal straw donors: "Let's give a round of applause for the person we love and the Democrats hate. We love you, Tom!"

Among those cheering loudest are King County Republicans, "sponsors" of the picnic and, in essence, Stewart's latest straw donors. Stewart's company made a "party-building" donation to the King County GOP of about $150,000 - which will be routed right back to Stewart to pay the bills for security, transportation, and all that "free" food.

Oh, never mind. It's time to move on. Put this behind us. Get on with the business of the citizens of Washington. After all, Republicans are satisfied with the job the top brass is doing. Cigar-chomping party official Frank Bickford shrugs at the defection of both social and economic conservatives: "We believe people in this state are happy with the party leaders."

House Speaker Clyde Ballard, who blames "old age" for referring repeatedly to Stewart as "Tom Campell," brags that "We haven't raised a single tax." He forgets to mention those GOP-supported tax hikes on King County restaurant meals, rental cars and game tickets to help pay for the half-billion-dollar Mariners' stadium. Old age? Ballard also touts the GOP's success in cutting spending, but overlooks the growth of the state operating budget from $16.2 billion to $19.1 billion since the Republicans won control of the House four years ago. Sixteen long years in politics - and the compulsion to stay longer - can cloud up a memory like that.

Senate Majority Leader Dan McDonald, whose legislative claim to fame last session was a Naderite bill to "ensure an efficient" market by regulating ATM machine fees, is shrill and defensive. "Some people say it doesn't matter" who's in the majority, McDonald complains. He points proudly to Initiative 601, "which made the Legislature accountable" to the people by enacting stringent spending limits.

McDonald neglects to mention the GOP effort this fall to corrupt the spirit and letter of that initiative through Referendum 49. It would cut motor vehicle excise taxes a puny $30 and permit a "one-time" shift of money out of the state general fund to the transportation fund without lowering the I-601 spending lid. McDonald says the party of fiscal discipline "will revolutionize this state." Yes, by spending nearly half a billion dollars from the state's general fund during its next two-year budget cycle without replacing it, the Republican Party will radically revolt against the will of the people who made I-601 state law.

There's a lot of squawking about leadership at this shindig, but not a word from Foreman, Ballard or McDonald about Initiative 200, the ballot measure to eliminate race and gender preferences in government hiring, contracting and college admissions, or Initiative 694, the partial-birth abortion ban. Both measures will come directly before the electorate in November because they were shunned by the Republican majority in Olympia. Entrenched politicians, unite.

Nix Farm, outside Chehalis, 5:00 p.m. - Two and a half hours south of Stewart's ranch, several dozen families gather at a modest picnic of, by, and for grass-roots conservatives. Many are lifelong Republicans. But they adamantly reject the GOP elite's decree of unconditional party loyalty.

Bob Nix, a leader of the I-601 campaign, calls the GOP's Ref. 49 "the first step in the destruction of 601. It's increasing taxation, no matter how you cut it. They're so damned greedy in Olympia." Having just forked over $1 million to the feds after the death of his parents, he also questions the leadership in Washington, D.C., for its glacial progress on eliminating inheritance taxes. "I had to sell the trees on my farm to pay those taxes! Where are the Republicans?"

Others are alarmed by the government's infringement of privacy rights; still more disturbed by the GOP's power-intoxicated leadership, whose main agenda is getting re-elected. "What we basically have," says Sylvia Sterling of Randall, "are Socialist Party A and Socialist Party B." A group of grandmothers - who dedicated years to stuffing envelopes, making yard signs, and volunteering for Republicans - agrees.

State Rep. John Koster, a GOP founder of the Conservative Caucus who represents the 39th district, shares their frustrations: "An honest discussion of our differences is healthy. I hope the leadership gets the message. They are making a mistake if they thumb their nose at conservatives who have been Republicans for generations and are getting fed up."

Deep pockets and shallow rhetoric may be good enough to sustain the state GOP party bosses. But for rank-and-file conservatives who put principles over power, it is thin gruel.

Michelle Malkin's column appears Tuesday on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is: malkin1@ix.netcom.com.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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