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Tibbs pulls Republicans together as chairman
Local Republicans are riding high these days.
Just ask Chris Tibbs, chairman of the Kitsap County Republican Party.
“Statewide, Kitsap County has become the model of how it’s done, I would argue, and how we work together with various factions of the Republican Party for the common good,” Tibbs said. “How we offer solutions and ideas, not just criticism. How we have a plan and how we articulate a plan of where our party differs from the Democrats.”
Tibbs first emerged on the local political stage with unsuccessful back-to-back bids to be the District 1 county commissioner. Tibbs earned 47.4 percent of the vote to Rob Gelder’s 51.84 percent in 2011 and then lost 44.36 percent to 55.34 percent against Gelder in the subsequent 2012 election for a four-year term.
“I like to say people got to know me and decided to go a different direction,” Tibbs joked.
Despite the self-deprecating humor about his own political fortunes at the ballot box, Tibbs is all business when it comes to local party politics.
“The Republican Party right now in Kitsap County is strong and thriving,” he said. “This is the first time in a decade when we raised more money than the Democrats. Last year, in cash contributions, the Republican Party raised $71,000 versus $20,000 that the Democrats raised. As perspective, the year prior, the Republican Party raised $40,000 versus $60,000 by the Democrats.”
It was, by all accounts, a banner year for the Kitsap Republican Party. But, Tibbs says, it wasn’t always such smooth sailing.
“I inherited a party that was divided,” he said. “We had part of the party being the liberty caucus, the mainstream Republicans and the conservative Republicans. It was a very divided party. But we’ve come together. We have one purpose, that purpose is to elect qualified Republicans. The greatest problem for the Republican Party in Kitsap County over the last ten years hasn’t been the Democrats. Frankly, it’s been the party shooting itself in the foot and working against its own common purpose. Those kinds of divisions are over.”
It was those divisions that kept Tibbs, despite his losses at the ballot box, in the ring.
“After 2011-2012, I was willing to step aside, but a number of people in our party saw this divide,” he said. “Part the party, the old guard establishment, which was predominantly Christian right, fighting with the Ron Paul people who were more libertarian and moderate Republicans not knowing who to listen to.”
Tibbs described the climate as being filled with “nastiness.”
“As I was looking across this divide with all of our activists, and I had a vested interest in our party and wanted it to be successful, we couldn’t find anybody who could bring the party together,” he said. “I wasn’t really inclined to continue on as a candidate, but I was talked into it. I’m happy to say, with our Precinct Committee Officers (PCOs) being pretty evenly divided into thirds, I did take about 89 percent on the first ballot.”
Tibbs has been trying to hold that coalition together ever since.
“While there may be differing opinions on how to address Obamacare, or how to address Social Security reform, what was clear was that the county PCOs could agree that I was the right person to facilitate those discussions and bring our party together in a very inclusionary fashion,” he said. “I make sure when I form committees or we do volunteer activities that we include each of our three factions together. It’s not to say it’s easy. It really is a full time job. I probably spend between 40 to 60 hours a week just on this, what I’m doing with the party.”
Tibbs has also made a strong effort to reach out to elected officials and bring them back into the fold of the local party.
“A number of our electeds had never had a relationship with the county party,” he said. “For a variety of reasons, they had decided to go out and win elections on the merits. They didn’t need the party. Oftentimes, the county party was a hindrance to them as opposed to an asset.”
Tibbs notes that during his first year at the helm, the Republican party had preferred candidates in 45 races and won 35 of them. The marquee match-up, of course, was the 26th District Senate race between Jan Angel and Nathan Schlicher which turned out to be the most expensive race in state history.
“We certainly benefited from the senate piece,” Tibbs said, noting that he recently took in a $20,000 check from a party backer who Tibbs preferred not to name at this time. Public disclosure reports will, of course, ultimately reveal who made the contribution.
Tibbs said the donation was unusual for a county party and the amount is on par for most annual budgets. In 2010, for example, Tibbs said the organization’s entire budget was $19,600.
“That’s a huge investment and that $20,000 is directly related to the successes we had in Jan (Angel). We had a donor who was very excited about Jan Angel’s win and wanted to have a stronger series of Republican wins this cycle. It was an example of the rebirth of the party, ‘I like what I’m seeing. I like where we’re going. I want to be a part of this.’ That’s a huge deal for us.”
It’s a far cry from where things stood in 2006 after Patty Lent lost her bid for re-election to the county commission after being knocked out in a primary by fellow Republican Jack Hamilton who went on to lose in the general against Josh Brown.
“A lot of the people that were part of the party, the fundraising, establishment part of the party, the people who were actually the chamber members, the leaders of the party, left. They just stayed home and they didn’t participate. So, what happened is a faction of our party, the more right of center, would run candidates or try to run and win elections and I don’t know if they knew how to win.”
Tibbs said that trend has changed and will continue to change.
“I view the Republican Party of Kitsap County as an asset,” he said. “We really have relevance if we elect Republicans. Certainly I believe in our platform and I believe in our principals. I’m not asking people to change their principals or who they are. But, as a political party, we only matter when we have Republicans win public office. To do that, we need to have responsible Republican candidates who are qualified in the field they are running to represent. Who are reasonable people. It cannot be a bombastic attack on the opposition, it has to be a discussion on the issues.”
Tibbs says that one person who fits that bill is Bremerton attorney Ed Wolfe who has thrown his hat in the ring as a county commission candidate.
“Politically, our number one goal this year is the election of Ed Wolfe,” Tibbs said. “There’s just no question. Our number one goal last year was Jan Angel and it was a success. We have to win Ed Wolfe’s election and I think we have a very, very well qualified candidate to become a Republican county commissioner. There is no disputing the qualifications and credentials of Ed Wolfe. You just can’t do it.”
Tibbs is also confident about sending more Republicans to Olympia.
“When I took over we had two Republicans in the State Capital,” Tibbs said. “Now we have three. By next year we’re gonna have five of the nine in the Kitsap County delegation be Republicans. I guarantee you. Because we’re going to have Sen. Angel, Sen. McEwan, Rep. Young, Michelle Caldier will beat Larry Seaquist and Josiah Rowell will defeat Kathy Haigh. And we’re going to do everything we can to make that happen.”
One thing Tibbs isn’t particulary concerned about is the local Tea Party, a wholly separate and autonomous organization. Tibbs says that while in some places the Tea Party and Republicans can seemingly be at war, that isn’t the case here. Instead, while there are differences of opinions, a healthy dialogue exists.