Wacking it

Is the ultraconservative legislator in Olympia an endangered species?

IT SEEMS THAT in some legislative districts a candidate's insanity is all he needs to be guaranteed a seat in Olympia. And why not? Right-wing extremists provide other legislators with much-needed comic relief and a bracing new perspective on lawmaking when they propose, with well-practiced straight faces, that it is the government's duty to castrate convicted sex offenders, make HIV education as difficult as possible for kids to get, and encourage parents to spank their children more often. Those who have been re-elected (a few whose constituents have no sense of humor haven't been) say they will resume the secret Con-servative Caucus soirees—where they come up with their wacki-est bills—even though they've been warned by moderate Republicans not to.

Nobody outside the caucus, including moderate Republicans, can say for sure who votes with it. Membership is secret because the group's agenda is so controversial (the bunch kept itself busy this past year attacking gays and lesbians, and in previous years has tried to do away with divorce, domestic-violence prevention efforts, and HIV education). Only the names of the five caucus board members (two of whom were defeated in the last election) are made public.

The two defeated board members have been replaced by unabashed (and unabashedly sane) liberals. State Rep. Mike Sherstad of Bothell, famous for suggesting that gays should be shipped out of the country and for his sponsorship of a joint resolution honoring straight couples who enter "Holy Matrimony" and procreate for the good of Washington state, lost to Jeanne Edwards, who welcomed gay campaign support. Rep. Bill Thompson of south Snohomish County, campaigning on a pro­Initiative 200 platform, was defeated by Mill Creek City Council member John Lovick, an African American. The three surviving board members include ultraweird Arlington Sen. Val Stevens, who sponsored a bill to end no-fault divorces, and Moses Lake Sen. Harold Hochstatter, whose most noteworthy achievements include attempts to tear down a photo exhibit of gay and lesbian families on display in the Capitol rotunda, and to put a disclaimer in public school textbooks urging kids not to believe in evolution. Caucus leader John Koster (R-Arlington), not to be outdone, once proposed legislation to carve a "Freedom County" out of his district. The gambit was enthusiastically backed by Christian patriots.

Wacko fanciers are taking particularly hard the loss of Sherstad, who once campaigned against the use of public funds for domestic-violence shelters because the shelters could entice a woman to leave her husband. He also once wasted hours of legislators' time arguing against the updating of old laws with gender-neutral language until House speaker and fellow Republican Clyde Ballard finally told him to sit down. Sherstad's most memorable tirade, though, was against the denial to convicted spouse abusers of guns on the grounds that we shouldn't deprive "law-abiding citizens" of their rights.

Not to worry. The void left by Sherstad's defeat should be more than filled by Puyallup's Tom Campbell, who served in the Legislature from 1994 to 1996 and has just been elected again. Campbell also campaigned against the gun ban, and pushed to make the National Rifle Association's Eddie Eagle gun-safety program part of the public school curriculum. He is best known for his rallying cry "We have an amoral group [sent] by the enemy to [oust] the government. . . . We've got to elect a governor who will clean out this den of snakes."

Koster says his group will solicit the membership of selected new legislators, and it's a safe bet Campbell will be among of them.

THE CAUCUS IS best known for its attacks on gay rights. After Vancouver state Rep. Marc Boldt introduced an unsuccessful bill to keep public money out of any program to benefit gays and lesbians, the caucus decided to intimidate public agencies sponsoring such programs on a case-by-case basis. In May, it threatened to rescind some funding to Washington State University because the school planned to host a conference for sexual-minority youth. Fearing that violence would break out, administrators canceled the conference after caucus members ranted against it online. WSU, however, still refuses to give up its resource center for sexual minorities, leading Koster to say that he doesn't see why the school should get increased funding in the future "if they have money to squander on this kind of extraordinary activity."

Last month, caucus members threatened to punish the Washington State Historical Society for holding a conference on gays in the Northwest. "This is a struggle for the culture of our society," Koster cried in a press release that labeled gays a threat because they "spread AIDS."

Proponents of both sanity and state-sponsored entertainment may find that the new Legislature will offer up the best of all possible sessions. Since the House will be evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, and the Senate will be controlled by Democrats, the influence of the Conservative Caucus will be risible. But their numbers and tendency to high dudgeon guarantee, as several Democrats say, that Olympia will still serve up its fair share of laughs.

 
comments powered by Disqus