Veteran activists to head parties
Seattle Times chief political reporter
State Republicans and Democrats chose new party chairs Saturday, both of them longtime activists: Diane Tebelius for the Republicans and Dwight Pelz for the Democrats.
The Republican Central Committee, meeting in Tukwila, bucked many party leaders in choosing Tebelius, an attorney and the party's current national committeewoman.
Tebelius' election was opposed by prominent party leaders, including 2004 Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi and state Attorney General Rob McKenna.
"It was a great victory for the grassroots of the Republican Party," Tebelius said after the closed-door meeting. "You can have all of the important people, but it's really about the message."
Tebelius long worked with the U.S. Department of Justice and is now in private practice. She was part of Rossi's legal team in his election challenge last year. She was an unsuccessful candidate for the Republican nomination in the 8th Congressional District, a race won by U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, who endorsed her opponent Saturday: Fredi Simpson, the party's vice chairwoman and a Chelan County party fixture.
Democrats, meeting in Kent, went with the choice of the party establishment, Pelz, a former King County councilman and state legislator from Seattle.
He was selected over former state Rep. Laura Ruderman, who finished second, and Jean Brooks, the party's Pierce County chairwoman, who finished a distant third.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, Gov. Christine Gregoire and Democratic legislative leaders backed Pelz.
Pelz told party members he is an "FDR Democrat" who believes government can be a force for good. He said Republicans have begun a war on the poor and the middle class.
He promised Democrats the party would field a candidate in every race around the state, something that hasn't always happened in Republican-heavy Eastern Washington.
Tebelius wouldn't release the vote tally in the race between her and Simpson but said: "The party is unified at this time."
She said she wants to change the perception she says too many voters have of Republicans.
"We are good, kind people who care about the direction of the country, and that message hasn't been getting out," she said.
She blamed Democrats, not her party's candidates, for the party's image. She did say Republicans need to "talk more about what we're for and not about what we're against."
Outgoing Republican Chairman Chris Vance stepped down to take a private-sector job.
On the Democratic side, outgoing Chairman Paul Berendt, who retired midterm, said the race for state Democratic chair was largely about regional divisions, which were magnified by political differences between Pelz and Ruderman.
He said Democrats in Eastern Washington, the more conservative side of the state, where Republicans dominate, want more resources and more attention.
"They want to see a little more effort made in Red Washington," Berendt said.
Ruderman, who is from east King County, was seen as a moderate Democrat in her legislative career and worked that angle hard. Pelz was seen as more of a traditional Seattle liberal.
After his election, Pelz reached out to rural Democrats, saying he would be in rural Washington soon "to talk more than we did the first time" when he was campaigning for the job.
David Postman: 360-943-9882 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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