We live in a society that is becoming more angry and less civil every day. Lack of civility has unfortunately come to the Lewis County Republican Party, and it’s even become headline news. I’ve always believed that you need to work with everyone and treat all with respect, especially when you disagree with those within your own organization. As a person who has been involved in politics for decades, I believe that treating others with contempt is the worst way to live life and rarely convinces others to accept your own viewpoint.
I am part of the Lewis County Republican leadership and have tried to persuade others that going down the road of contempt, incivility and name-calling is the wrong way to go. There is a group of people in the party who disagree. The chair, Brandon Svenson, is one of them. For over a year, I have been silent about his behavior, but I believe we should, as a community and as a party, hold our leaders to a high standard. That is why I am part of the group that has consistently asked him to either stop behaving in this manner or step down as chair. He has refused to do either.
We kept silent publicly when over a year ago, he started insulting our Republican elected officials, sometimes in such foul terms that I cannot repeat them. He and several others engaged in heckling and name-calling, which is inappropriate at any time, but shockingly, they did it mostly to fellow Republicans. In fact, in all the time I’ve known him, I’ve rarely heard Brandon talk about Democrat policies and how harmful they are. I’ve mostly heard him speak about other Republicans, both elected and in our party, with contempt. The executive board’s private requests that we stop calling our own people names was met with ridicule.
While there is always a group of people that is attracted to that behavior, there are many others who have stopped participating; nobody wants to be around people who are constantly abusive in their communication, beating up on fellow members of the organization. Nobody wants to associate with a bully. I have even been less and less involved over the past year for that reason. I do not want to be associated with people who persist in bad behavior.
We also kept publicly silent as Svenson obviously skewed meetings and activities to benefit only particular Republicans. Instead of creating a platform for all Republicans to discuss issues, both as candidates and fellow Republicans, he continually provided platforms for only his chosen few, while he kept others from being able to participate, often by ignoring requests to be heard or responding with a rude “shut up, nobody cares for your opinion.” This is not about any particular campaign; it’s a pattern of refusal to acknowledge that there are Republicans who disagree on some matters and that all have the right to be given the freedom to debate and discuss.
The Republican party is not the campaign arm of any candidate. We have always, as individuals, worked with the particular candidate we choose personally, but never as a party do we decide for the people who they must vote for. That practice brings to mind the “smoky back rooms” of years past where one candidate was chosen and all others were suppressed. In fact, our bylaws are written so that we aren’t allowed to do that. Earlier this year, the entire central committee had an opportunity to vote to choose only one candidate to support, and the majority of precinct committee officers (PCOs) voted no. But Svenson ignored the will of the entire body and did so anyway in ways that were so aggressively antagonistic that it received headline news in the local media. The PCOs voted to allow the citizens to choose who the Republican nominee would be in the primary. As recently as last week, Brandon refused to abide by that decision and maintained that he would be the one to choose who is a Republican and who isn’t. Is that what you are looking for in a chair? Someone who ignores the will of the people and does the complete opposite? He obviously doesn’t care about the majority opinion in our local party at all.
While I have always believed that arguing in public is damaging to the party, the actions of Brandon and a few others in public over the past few months have forced me to respond. I will no longer allow only one side to be heard.
People need to decide where the future of the party lies. I would ask you, though, as we move forward, to listen carefully to what people in this party say. If the speech you hear is primarily and consistently against other Republicans — regardless of their party tenure — I want you to ask yourself how that could possibly help us get the majority in either the Legislature or Congress. How is aggressive negativity toward Republicans going to help us keep Lewis County red? How is it going to help us roll back the horrible policies that have been foisted on us over the years by Democrats when we turn people away because of our attitude?
I suggest that to succeed as a party, we need to ask ourselves these questions:
1. If there is a disagreement, is it discussed with respect, or is the reaction laced with name-calling and foul language?
2. Do the people you associate with spend more time holding their fellow Republicans in contempt, or do they find ways to work with everyone to defeat Democrats?
3. Is the reaction to a disagreement a civil discussion, or does it consist of catcalls and shouting down by other members?
4. Do we want a party that treats others with respect, or do we want to have members stalking others on Facebook and recording them when they see them at other times and in other places, forcing others to respond in-kind for self-defense?
5. Do we want leadership that will abide by the majority vote of the elected members of the party, or do we want leadership that overrides the majority of members according to his own desires?
This is the kind of behavior that has been going on by our chair and some of the current members and PCOs. This isn’t how decent people act. It is also a pattern. Svenson was asked to leave the state Young Republican organization because of his treatment of others, calling other members such disrespectful and degrading names that I refuse to repeat them here. There are other county party members who have reached out to ask why our chair is so antagonistic toward other Republican elected officials. This has gone on for over a year. This repeated behavior has no place in civil society and especially in an organization that relies on volunteer efforts to succeed.
I was told by someone that we need a fighter in the current times, and I agree. But I have friends and loved ones who are war heroes, law enforcement and other leadership roles whose ability and willingness to fight is unquestioned. They stand firm on principle, but they do so with respect. They do not need to be verbally abusive to be leaders. In fact, they are the ones who are most effective and most respected. They are the ones who can bring all parties together to work toward a common goal. To those who say we need to stop being civil, I would tell you that the vast majority of people don’t care about your politics or your nastiness. But they do vote. And when you spend months denigrating Republicans, you turn voters away from ever wanting to vote for a Republican again. If you are busy driving them away with your aggressive antagonism, you will not gain their votes, and in politics, there is only one rule. The ones with the most votes win.
I read a post from a Republican on Facebook just this morning that said that if you are a particular type of Republican (which wasn’t defined — it’s basically a personal opinion about what defines the word Republican), the poster was “coming after you.” That attitude is so unnecessary and destructive. We will never win seats in this state with that attitude and resulting actions. We will likely be fine in Lewis County, because we are a very red county, but this kind of divisive attitude will destroy our party and eventually eat away at our red majority. The purpose of the party is to gain votes, not drive half of your own members away.
None of us follow all the rules all the time. We fall short on commitments or even lose our patience. It’s a volunteer organization, we all have busy lives and we are all fallible. We do need to give grace to each other often. We have given grace to Svenson for over a year, long before the election season began. But the constant berating of fellow Republicans is not the way forward. I hope you agree with me. Take some time to listen to who you are associating with. Are they working to expand the number of voters, or are they busy calling their coworkers names and holding them in contempt? I am saddened beyond belief to have to write this letter that gives you a small window into what has been happening, but I felt that people need to know. We need to determine now what the future and the reputation of our party will be.
Ruth Peterson is state committeewoman for the Lewis County Republican Party.