For a GOP Official, Daggers Come From Fellow Republicans
For a time, the 2004 Washington governor’s race seemed like the election that would never end. And while the state, along with most of Washington D.C., waited seven months to find out who its next governor would be, Sam Reed sat in the biggest political fishbowl of his life.
As Washington’s secretary of state, Reed was in charge of managing the recount that pitted Democrat Christine Gregoire against Republican Dino Rossi — who were separated at times by as little as 28 votes.
[IMGCAP(1)]Now, Reed is facing the ire of angry partisans who are furious over his handling of the recount. But unlike the scorn that former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris drew for her role in the statewide recount of the 2000 presidential race, Reed’s loudest critics are members of his own Republican Party.
State Republicans have said that a series of flawed legal decisions by Reed’s office resulted in the courts ruling last month that the election should go to Gregoire, who originally trailed Rossi by 261 votes of the approximately 3 million votes cast. Privately, though, many Republicans are furious that Reed did not actively help Rossi.
Chris Vance, the state GOP chairman, said the wounds are still raw among many in his party.
“The best way to characterize it is that opinions are divided,” Vance said regarding party sentiment about Reed. “There are Republicans who are very, very angry with Sam Reed, and there are other Republicans who defend Sam Reed.”
Reed defended his actions, and said he did everything by the book and did his job by putting the law ahead of partisanship.
“My role as secretary of state is to be the one who is there on behalf of the people themselves — the electorate — to make sure that it is in fact a free and fair and accurate as possible election,” Reed said.
Reed also said he knew very well what walking that path would mean.
“When you get into a recount situation, the political parties — while their rhetoric is that they want nothing but a fair and accurate election — view it simply as an extension of the campaign. They are there to win,” Reed said.
“Now, that isn’t to say that it isn’t hard when your friends are unhappy with you,” Reed conceded with a laugh, proving that he is taking the fallout from the election in stride.
Most Republicans, though, do not find any humor in losing the closest governor’s race in the nation’s history.
Jim Keough, who served as a consultant on the Rossi campaign, agreed that Reed’s decisions greatly antagonized many party loyalists.
“There were some interpretations that made our case very, very difficult,” Keough said. “We felt that it had a strong impact on the eventual ruling.”
Reed is keenly aware of the anger that is still out there, but he knows that sometimes it comes with the job of overseeing elections.
“I had some very good friends — some who helped me get elected — who ended up very unhappy,” Reed said. “My role as a Republican, in terms of having things in a partisan way, is basically outside the office, but once I walk through that door, and I’m secretary of state, my responsibilities are to all the people in the state.”
While that failed to square with some of his old friends, it certainly sat well with Democrats.
“Sam Reed was far less partisan than I thought he would be,” said Paul Berendt, chairman of the state Democrats, who added that the recount gave him and state Democrats a newfound respect for Reed. “He played the recount by the book. He interpreted the law and he made pronouncements as to what that meant.There was no partisanship in that.”
Some Republicans have also defended Reed. Jim Dornan, a veteran of Washington state GOP politics — who, coincidentally, is about to take over as manager of Harris’ Senate campaign in Florida — said Reed is getting a raw deal from the party’s conservative wing.
“What they don’t understand [is] that the secretary of state’s office isn’t supposed to be a partisan office,” Dornan said.
“Sam Reed is a good guy, he’s got a great heart, and he’s honest and forthright to a fault,” Dornan said. “It just galls me that he is being made the whipping boy of the far right.”
Reed said he has always been a “model Republican” when it comes to advocating the party platform of fiscal conservatism and individual responsibility, but also in terms of serving well.
“Obviously, you’re working in the party’s advantage just by being a good public official and having people think highly of you, and that reflects well on your party,” he said.
While Reed considers himself “blessed” to love going to work every day, there is ample speculation that the party will try to oust him when he is up for a third term in 2008.
Vance denied rumors of a primary challenge, and said his party does not run against incumbents, but Dornan and others believe that Reed is a marked man.
Keough said that it is too early to tell if the anger will dissipate, but he added that Reed “has built up a great deal of credibility that will be hard to shoot down.”
Reed has “never been a darling of the far right,” Keough said, but “Sam’s a strong leader within the mainstream Republicans, and that group is fairly strong” in the state.
In Reed’s view, carrying on the state’s long tradition of independence will suit him just fine.
“I really believe it is important not to use the office for partisan advantage,” he said. “I think that is the expectation of the public, that we’re going to play it straight, have the highest of ethics, and do what is right.”