Vance bottoms out

Working at an urban liberal rag like this one, it's a rare occasion when a Republican candidate impresses you.

It was just a year ago that Chris Vance, a Republican candidate running against incumbent U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, managed this trick. Vance convincingly argued that Smith's bipartisan leanings were a symptom of a Democratic Party consumed with gaining a majority of seats in Congress rather than taking strong, consistent positions on issues. While this tactic wins elections, he started, we end up with officeholders who don't stand for anything. A persuasive argument, although we generally prefer ersatz Democrats to authentic Republicans around here: Smith won our endorsement and the election.

Soon after his defeat, Vance bowed to the changing demographics of his County Council district and resigned to head the State Republican Party. It seemed like a solid move at the time. Well, the party will survive, but Vance's principles haven't.

Within a month of taking over, Vance joined State Democratic Chair Paul Berendt in a traveling rhetorical road show bashing our state's blanket primary. Although voters support retaining the current system, ideological twin brothers Vance and Berendt favored reserving political power for the parties, not the people.

Now, with a political consultant working for state Sen. Pam Roach implicated in a scheme to stage a phony Green Party convention, recruit unwitting Green candidates, and divert potential Democratic votes (ironically, Roach is trying to win Vance's old seat), the new Republican Party chief is talking like an old political hack. (For more on this race, see "Lucky 13," p. 13.)

"Working to make sure you get the right mixture of candidates on the ballot is a tactic that goes as far back as the dawn of democracy," Vance told a Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter. "This is nothing illegal or unethical, and it's a common tactic." Huh? If that's the best Vance could come up with, he should have hidden under his desk until the phone stopped ringing.

When party leaders like Vance shrug off blatantly unethical behavior, they've got no business questioning why voters forgive prevaricators like Bill Clinton, embrace third-party campaigns like Ross Perot's, or flock to fence-straddling moderates like Adam Smith. Political parties have never seemed more irrelevant—and their leaders have no one to blame but themselves.

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