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GOP faithful gird for election battle

t It’s tough to be a Republican on Bainbridge, many caucus-goers agree.

With nothing at stake for delegates but the formality of ratifying George Bush’s presidential nomination, island Republicans turned their attention March 9 to fine-tuning Kitsap County’s party platform.

About 60 GOP faithful mustered for precinct caucuses at the Bainbridge Island Commons. That number contrasted with the overflow crowds that set attendance records last month, when Democrats caucused to pick their own nominee.

The GOP debate was generally harmonious, with little disagreement on issues, but it was frequently punctuated by complaints that Bainbridge conservatives are badly outnumbered – if not persecuted – by their more liberal island counterparts.

Education issues drew the most extended discussion of the evening. Few appeared to believe that a proposed plan of “providing schools with additional funding to pay teachers higher salaries, hire more teachers and reduce class sizes” would solve problems. Nor did they favor a proposed alternative to “institute higher learning standards and teacher accountability in public schools.”

The popular solution was vouchers, expressed on a questionnaire as “giving parents the freedom to choose their child’s school, public or private.” Many said problems start in Olympia, with a “top-heavy administration” that doesn’t pass tax money on down to the schools.

“The kids are getting screwed,” one parent concluded, while others questioned the quality of education that Bainbridge High School seniors are receiving.

“Kids graduating in the ‘50s left high school with a better education than colleges would even think of attempting now,” one mother and former teacher said.

Others objected to what they see as subtle curriculum shifts they say are politically motivated. Several parents cited a sixth-grade history class they said dwelt to an “obsessive” degree on the Japanese internment, “then tying that to the Patriot Act and other so-called ‘mistakes’ this country has made...”

“First we should get these kids patriotic,” another parent suggested, drawing laughter by adding, “Then, when they get to the university, they can start ‘deconstructing’ it.”

“But we conservatives face a continuing struggle to counter the influence of these teachers,” a third island mother said. “We have a parental duty to be vigilant – a constant duty to re-educate our children every night.”

Others said children of conservative parents who dare to express their views at school may suffer consequences. One mother said her daughter had been taken down a grade in language arts for that reason; another claimed acts of vandalism have been directed against the property of conservative Bainbridge students.

“Well,” one audience member said, to both laughter and applause, “the GOP is in the minority on this island, and the kids feel it in a big way. Kids of Republican families are the persecuted minority here!”

A public educator who teaches in Bremerton reminded the group, “There’s really a lot of us out here trying our best. It’s your tax money; you may as well take control over how it’s spent.” He suggested that more parents should run for school board positions if they are concerned about keeping public schools accountable.

Republicans did select their allotted slate of 74 delegates for the Kitsap County GOP convention in Bremerton on April 17. The county meet, in turn, will send 55 delegates to the state convention May 28-29 in Bellevue, with 41 going on to represent Washington at the Republican national convention in New York City this August.

Caucus-goers also heard short pitches from County Commission candidates Scott Henden of Kingston and Matthew Cleverley of Suquamish, both of whom hope to challenge incumbent Chris Endresen for the Position 1 slot. They also met Paulette DeGard, Kingston, who kicked off her campaign this week for a 23rd District House seat.

All three candidates criticized what they called an “unfriendly” Kitsap business climate; they also called for more efficient county spending and major changes to the state Growth Management Act to increase local control. They also pleaded for help from the Bainbridge faithful, acknowledging that the island can be a tough audience for Republican politicians.

That sentiment segued into a general discussion of platform issues, loosely structured around responses to the “Official 2004 Precinct Caucus Questionnaire.”

Asked to identify the most important issues for the Republican Party, “cutting taxes” and “making Washington state business friendly” emerged as top vote-getters. Several participants expressed fears their children will have to move when they grow up because there will be no jobs here.

One panelist did select “civil unions or gay marriage” as a top issue for the party, drawing applause with his comment that “This country is facing a gay rights anarchy, in defiance of state and federal law. Unelected bureaucrats are pursuing their own agenda, and the courts are just as out of control.”

On transportation, one participant said, “You can’t get off the stupid island anymore, without waiting through two ferries, and when you do get off you can’t move anywhere anyway. Our whole, entire transportation system is havoc, and havoc is its name!”

Caucus-goers moved more quickly through the remaining policy issues. Some as suggested that the federal government should allow family health care costs to be deducted, dollar for dollar, to at least the same degree as mortgage interest payments.

The discussion of taxes was short. However, an audience member said GOP gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi had demonstrated that it was possible for Republicans to balance the budget and still maintain a social conscience.

“Cutting taxes doesn’t have to hurt anyone,” he said – especially if you make the right kind of cuts. “Get rid of the 6,000 Department of Ecology employees, for example. They do nothing but make our lives more difficult anyway.”

Islanders agreed that improving transportation, property rights” and “building a business-friendly state” were the three most important issues for voters to address at the state level.

Drugs also got some play.

“It’s time to say ‘NO’ on this drug issue!” one caucus-goer said. “It’s time to throw some of these kids out of school, and too bad if they can’t go Ivy. We’ve been too overprotective for too long.”

Community Events, April 2014

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