An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

‘Voice of the people’? ‘Chaotic mess’? Endorsement turmoil at WA GOP convention

Republican Semi Bird speaks to reporters about a move to disqualify him from getting the endorsement at the 2024 state GOP convention in Spokane. Delegates who support him succeeded in blocking the move Friday.
Jerry Cornfield/Washington State Standard
Republican Semi Bird speaks to reporters about a move to disqualify him from getting the endorsement at the 2024 state GOP convention in Spokane. Delegates who support him succeeded in blocking the move Friday.

After gubernatorial candidate Semi Bird failed to pass Republican party vetting, his backers responded with shouts, then overturned the decision. Dave Reichert bailed on seeking his party’s blessing in the race.

For a few tense and chaotic minutes Friday, the Washington State Republican Party was poised to leave its convention in Spokane without endorsing a candidate for governor.

Not Semi Bird. Not Dave Reichert. Not anyone.

But delegates supporting Bird revolted, overturning a move by party leaders to disqualify him from the endorsement process and clearing the way for his anointing Saturday as the party’s officially-backed choice in the August primary.

As the drama played out inside the Spokane Convention Center, Reichert, who was not on site, said he was no longer seeking the endorsement citing “disarray” in the party.

Dave Reichert, a former congressman, is a Republican candidate for Washington governor in 2024. (Courtesy Reichert campaign) “The entire process was chaotic, deceptive and deceitful,” Reichert said in a phone interview. “Their whole mission was to endorse him no matter whether he was disqualified or not.”

Neither Reichert nor Bird got to make speeches to the crowd, like candidates in other races.

“Once they did away with our speech, there was no reason for me to be part of that chaotic mess,” Reichert said.

Bird, speaking with reporters at the convention, viewed it differently.

“What we are seeing is the voice of the people, the will of the people who are pushing back against business as usual. That is what you are seeing,” Bird said.

‘Well within the standards’

Friday’s battle centered on the party’s candidate vetting process and the recent revelation that Bird pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in 1993 for lying on a credit application. The Seattle Times first reported the crime and Bird confirmed it Friday.

Bird and Reichert had been deemed eligible for the party’s endorsement as of April 12. The candidate committee didn’t know of the 1993 incident. They met Thursday afternoon and decided Bird had not been forthcoming and “did not pass the vetting process,” said Lisa Evans, the panel’s chair.

Boos erupted at the announcement, followed by chants of “bullshit” prompting state party chair Jim Walsh to demand decorum.

Continuing, Evans said, committee members decided “out of respect” for delegates and the process, the best move would be to not endorse anyone for governor at the convention.

“What this does allow for is for you to vote for the candidate of your choice in the primary,” she said, setting off another round of angered shouts and chants of “USA” from Bird’s boisterous backers among the record-setting 1,830 convention delegates.

Speaking to reporters post-fracas, Bird said he had answered all the committee’s questions in the review process.

Party rules indicate that by April 12 delegates would’ve received a report concerning every candidate eligible for an endorsement in a statewide race. Those reports would contain information on the individual and if they signed a pledge to back the endorsed candidate in their race if it is not them.

Those reports also include “anything in the candidate’s background check which would reflect badly on the Republican Party’s brand,” according to convention rules.

Bird said that look back covers 15 years.

“I was well within the standards,” he said, since the misdemeanor transgression occurred 30 years ago.

In talking to the candidate committee, he said he was never told it planned to deem him ineligible.

“I found out when all of you found out. That is how we do business in the Washington State Republican Party,” Bird said. “I was not happy. But I stayed not knowing what the outcome would be.”

“Where is the other candidate? I think we heard something. Is he here? Is he in town?” he added, referring to Reichert. “I put my trust in We The People …and We The People spoke.”

At 12:45 p.m., Reichert posted on X, formerly Twitter, that he was withdrawing his name for consideration for the gubernatorial endorsement.

In the interview, he said party officials disqualified his opponent and then afforded him the chance to get the party’s backing anyway. Officials seemed to want to head off any kind of showdown with Bird supporters if they enforced the rules, he said.

If Reichert advances in the August primary, he said he would be open to getting the party’s endorsement for the fall.

‘Feels good to beat Democrats’

Until the gubernatorial flap, the convention had been proceeding mostly as anticipated with candidates for attorney general, superintendent of public instruction, secretary of state and state auditor making their pitches to the crowd.

Former congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler did receive a chilly welcome as she talked about her campaign for commissioner of public lands. Some booed and others stood with their backs to her, signaling their continuing anger with her vote to impeach former president Donald Trump.

“From experience, it feels good to beat Democrats,” she said, pointing out that she did it six times in races for her old U.S. House seat.

Not the seventh as Joe Kent, who Trump backed, defeated her in the 2022 primary. Kent has endorsed Herrera Beutler in her current race. She said the two have not spoken but said she’s glad to have the support “of any voter in Washington” who embraces her approach to the office.

Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia for questions: Follow Washington State Standard on Facebook and Twitter.