Digging out: What’s next for the Republican Party?

In the aftermath of the Obama Tsunami, Republicans at the state and national level are digging out and correctly spending some quality time analyzing what happened and how to move forward with re-thinking, re-branding and re-positioning for the days to come.

As one of two statewide Republican elected officials left standing (the estimable Attorney General Rob McKenna is the other), my hope for our Grand Old Party is that party elders, activists and donors resist the ultimately self-defeating instinct to move toward narrow ideological dogma, negativism and unhelpful government-is-bad rhetoric.

I hope the party that I have loved all these decades will increasingly be the idea-rich home of pragmatism and reform, the welcoming party of inclusion and the creative party of can-do problem-solvers. We are, after all, the party of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and Dan Evans. We have succeeded for 148 years by championing individual freedom and responsibility, equal rights and opportunities for all, fiscal conservatism, strong local and state governments, a vibrant free enterprise system, conservation of our natural resources, and a strong national defense. To cant away from such mainstream American thought and away from the practical, common-sense middle is precisely the wrong approach.

I am quite certain that Washingtonians and indeed most Americans are ready for a new generation of post-partisan problem-solving. Olympia has had some stellar examples of across-the-aisle cooperation and when Republicans have been at the table on issues like water rights, construction projects and streamlining government regulations, everyone has benefitted. With the state facing a budget crisis and pressing needs in education, transportation, the environment, jobs and social justice, Olympia needs bipartisan cooperation more than ever.

Yes, Democrats have won the White House, the governor’s mansion and legislative majorities, but the election is over and America and Washington need to put politics and division aside and get on with the collaborative and creative act of governing.

Voters expect and deserve results, not sharp-elbows and rank partisanship. People want solutions, government that works. A number of Republican governors, including the chief executives of Louisiana, Hawaii and Minnesota, admirably demonstrate this approach. If you look at the common thread of Attorney General McKenna and myself, both how we approach our duties and how we campaign, it is that we stress excellence in delivering services and solutions to people, all the people, and not pursuing rigid ideological agendas, bashing government or excluding entire constituencies.

In many ways, our state party is strong and well-organized and managed to re-elect our three members of Congress and to increase legislative majorities during the Obama surge. But to grow stronger and to broaden its appeal, the party must provide real solutions and offer a voice of opportunity for all, including women, people of color, gay people and any who have been excluded from full participation in public life and economic success. Republicans must have something to offer the broad middle class, as well as speak to the aspirations of the less fortunate. We must be “green.” We must offer positive ideas for jobs and the economy, health care, energy independence, better schools and transportation, environmental protection and social justice. As Gandhi wisely observed, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”

If history is any guide, Republicans are not consigned to permanent minority status and will rebound. Republicans’ fortunes will be assisted by positive attitudes and helpful contributions to this state and nation.

Sam Reed is the secretary of state of Washington and former president of the National Association of Secretaries of State. He can be reached at sreed@secstate.wa.gov.

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