Commentary: Herrera Beutler deserved more respect at GOP convention


For a dozen years, Republican Third Congressional District U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler represented Southwest Washington in Congress with a focus on helping her constituents. Before that, she served in the state Legislature as an 18th District House member for three years.

Now, she’s campaigning for the open position of Washington state commissioner of public lands in the upcoming Aug. 6 primary election, but when she stood to speak at the state Republican convention in Spokane on April 19, about a third of the 1,800 delegates booed and several dozen turned their backs on her.

“I was extremely disappointed,” Ruth Peterson, of Boistfort Valley, said last week at the Chehalis Eagles during a meeting of the Lewis County Conservative Coalition, which invited Herrera Beutler to speak. “I’m looking forward now to actually being able to hear what she has to say.”

As public lands commissioner, Herrera Beutler said she’d focus on better managing nearly 6 million acres of state public lands to help schools, firefighters, police officers and communities while overseeing mining, shellfish management, forest management and timber harvesting. Better management of public forests would curtail wildfire risks and subsequent air pollution, she said. Devastating California wildfires in 2020 erased two decades worth of that state’s gains in curtailing carbon emissions, she pointed out. Doug Sutherland, the last Republican lands commissioner, has endorsed her. She’s second in fundraising for the campaign, lagging behind only Democrat Dave Upthegrove, King County Council chair.

The actions by disrespectful Trump cultists at the state convention stemmed from Herrera Beutler’s vote to condemn the actions of former President Donald Trump, which led to the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the nation’s Capitol by a violent mob intent on preventing certification of the 2020 presidential election.

Because she was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, she lost her 2022 primary campaign to Republican Joe Kent who then went on to lose the general election to Third District Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, a Democrat.

“As I read the Constitution, impeachment is a grand jury,” Herrera Beutler told the Association of Washington Business during a March 6, 2023, interview. “It’s not a conviction. It just says evidence is there to take it to a trial. Well, there was definitely enough evidence that I lived through that to me said this definitely needs to go to trial. And that’s all impeachment is. So, I have no regrets about that vote. I wouldn’t change it.”

In some ways, the actions of Republicans at the state convention didn’t surprise me given the decline in civil public discourse since 2008, when I attended the convention in Spokane as a delegate for U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

“During my time in Congress, I really felt like there was an escalation of divisive speaking, really from the people at the top, from presidents,” Herrera Beutler told the Association of Washington Business. “I just heard a lot of us-versus-them, whether it’s class or age or minority status. And as a young Hispanic woman, I don’t say that lightly.”

I consider the decline in respect for one another and increase in hateful rhetoric all part of Trump’s legacy. What’s sad is that the Republican Party used to encompass a large tent with moderates and conservatives working together to elect candidates who advocated for individual freedoms, limited government, fiscal responsibility and family values. The party tried to adhere to President Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.”

Today, the party has moved far to the right, defends a presidential candidate who has cheated on several wives and paid hush money to a porn star, and no longer wants what it calls RINOs — Republicans in Name Only. Trump, a decade-long Democrat before seeking the Republican nomination in 2016, is well known for referring to anyone in the Republican Party who opposes him as “pathetic” or “horrendous” RINOs.

It used to be that the party didn’t endorse before the primary, leaving it to Republican candidates to fight it out among themselves until the election. The party then supported the Republican winner in the general election.

But that’s all changed. The state party had already endorsed Kent over fellow Republican Third District candidate Leslie Lewallen.

At the convention, Republicans endorsed Semi Bird for governor over former King County Sheriff and Eighth U.S. District Rep. Dave Reichert, whom they consider a RINO, and seven other Republicans. They endorsed Sue Kuehl Pederson over Herrera Beutler for commissioner of public lands and, in the race to defeat Democrat Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, they picked Dale Whitaker.

The party supported Raul Garcia over five other Republicans in the race to unseat U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and endorsed Ferry County Commissioner Brian Dansel in the U.S. House District 5 race to replace Cathy McMorris Rodgers, despite seven other Republicans running — including Spokane County Treasurer Michael Baumgartner.

In the race for attorney general to replace Democrat Bob Ferguson, who is running for governor, the party endorsed Pasco Mayor Pete Serrano. Delegates picked Matt Hawkins as the party’s pick for auditor.

For the nonpartisan position of superintendent of the office of public instruction, the party endorsed David Olson, a Peninsula School District board member.

While in Congress, Herrera Beutler, a mother of three, cofounded a bipartisan Maternity Care Caucus and pushed forth the Preventing Maternal Death Act. She advocated for services for military veterans. She spearheaded efforts to make it easier to kill sea lions to protect both endangered Columbia River salmon and federal investments to restore threatened fish runs. She pushed for legislation to protect timber harvests, endangered wildlife, agriculture, watersheds and energy from hydroelectric projects. She was willing to reach across the aisle and work with Democrats if that’s what it took to accomplish goals to benefit her district.

When people contacted her office for help, she responded, which I know from firsthand experience. I helped a World War II veteran injured at Okinawa write and publish his life story, but despite trying for a couple of years, he couldn’t obtain copies of his medical records from the Veterans Administration. I contacted Herrera Beutler’s office, and he received the records within a month.

During her tenure, her office returned $10 million to constituents — veterans, widows, people with disabilities — who were owed benefits.

Whatever your beliefs about her vote to impeach Trump, Herrera Beutler deserved more respect than having people turn their backs and boo her.

But that seems to be reflective of today’s Republican Party.

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Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at