Clark County Tea Party goes after Herrera Beutler

A classic example of rigid and self-destructive partisanship is playing out in Southwest Washington, where a traditionally conservative Republican is threatened with censure for being something less than radically right wing.

Third-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler represents the state’s 3rd Congressional District, encompassing counties along and near the lower Columbia River, including the district’s largest population center, Vancouver. Although it was somewhat reweighted to the Republican Party when Olympia was removed during the 2010 redistricting process, it is still a “swing” district. Within its boundaries are not only right-leaning Portland suburbs, but also loyal Democratic strongholds like Pacific County. It has elected Democrats to Congress in 32 of the past 40 years.

Most politicians — and especially Republicans — would look at this and conclude it’s a good idea to take a balanced approach and cultivate a reputation for effective cooperation. In Herrera Beutler’s case, during the recently completed 113th Congress, this translated into voting for Democrat-favored positions 12 percent of the time, according to an analysis by the Washington Post. But this runs counter to organizational reality in Clark County. There, the most passionate activists who participate in the party’s central committee prefer zero cooperation with Democrats, and also a good deal less cooperation with even the GOP’s top-tier congressional leaders.

Herrera Beutler is intelligent and personable, but certainly far to the right of many of her constituents, particularly on social issues. For example, she recently voted in lockstep with her party to reinstate deportation policies for undocumented immigrants — a position that would decimate the coastal economy if actually carried out, in addition to wrecking the lives of thousands of hard-working families.

But for the most avid members of the GOP’s tea party wing, anything short of blowing up democracy as we know it is a form of betrayal — apostasy, to use a religious term for someone who strays from the faith. To these folks, Herrera Beutler’s work to keep the ports of Ilwaco and Chinook open to the Columbia River via federal dredging is a step on the road to socialism and/or national bankruptcy.

Smart observers have noted that this move by the Clark County GOP is likely to strengthen Herrera’s mainstream popularity. Certainly, a young Hispanic woman who plays her cards right could have a bright future in statewide politics. This future depends on seeking additional — not fewer — ways to work across party lines.