This piece co-authored by Michelle McIntyre and R. Clayton Strang
The 80/20 argument often comes up whenever conservative activists have any criticism whatsoever towards a Republican candidate or elected Republican official. It’s a pragmatist argument: "My 80 percent friend is not my 20 percent enemy" or "I'd much rather lobby a Republican who agrees with me on 80 percent of the issues than try and lobby a Democrat who agrees with me on nothing."
Perhaps there is some truth to the pragmatist argument, but just how is it that activists should go about lobbying their Republican elected officials when they go astray from not only the party platform but the state and U.S. Constitutions?
Predictably, the 80/20 argument came up in response to the firestorm that has surrounded State Rep. Mike Hope (R) of Washington State’s 44th Legislative District over his sponsorship of two controversial bills: HB 1588 requiring universal background checks on all firearms purchases and HB 1934 overriding parental decisions on who can petition a judge for court ordered visitation with a child (even if that visitation goes against the wishes of the child’s parents.)
Fired up over Hope’s support of HB 1588, conservative activists responded with critical open letters that went viral on blog and Facebook posts. These activists cited the right to bear arms from the Washington State and U.S. Constitution as well as factual information on the unintended legal consequences of the proposed legislation. Predictably, one local pragmatist and former party official responded with the 80/20 argument, followed by these comments:
"You guys are going about it all wrong! You aren't thinking this through. Mike Hope is a great asset to have in the legislature. Instead of all of this hot-headed stuff I'm seeing from you, take the time to talk to him. There's a better way to work with him on this and the very first part is to treat him with respect. There are two issues: the first is the constitutional issue and the second is how we treat our team members. You have to dial back the rhetoric and treat people with respect, particularly your representatives as you are going to need them in the future. I am totally opposed to this bill. I don't think we need any more interference with private life buy [sic] I'm going to treat him with respect and find out where he's coming from. I'll be calling him later this evening. Read your own posts...[sic] it's totally unwarranted and unproductive."
But is it unproductive for activists to get fired up, even mad enough to air their criticisms in public forums? Let’s compare the results of the two approaches.
This same party pragmatist did contact Rep. Hope about his support for HB 1588 and he reported back by simply regurgitating the exact same talking points the representative had been using in his form letter responses to all who have contacted him about it. In other words, the pragmatist was prepared to accept any excuse without questioning or addressing the concerns raised by conservative activists in response to these talking points.
Contrast that with the response grassroots activists received from the only other Republican who co-sponsored HB 1588, Rep. Maureen Walsh of Washington’s 16th Legislative District. She reversed her position.
“I have really come to realize that no legislation will ever address the criminal element as far as guns are concerned. Thus the bill only targets (no pun intended) lawful gun owners and the application of the law would not be logical. I will not be supporting the bill and thank everyone who wrote to me with their concerns. Your comments were very helpful to me in discerning this issue.” You can read her entire statement here.
While it doesn't look like we’ll get the same type of reversal from Rep. Hope on HB 1588, there is no question that he has responded to the pressure. He has privately told some activists that he plans to vote against HB 1934 and make a public statement and a strong argument against it when it comes up for a vote on the house floor, although to date, he has yet to do so.
Rep. Hope has tried convincing the critics of HB 1588 that he has the support of the Second Amendment Foundation’s Alan Gottlieb. In fact, Gottlieb and the SAF have also been very critical of the bill in its original form. Hope has indeed been in negotiations with them but it remains to be seen whether or not the final version of the bill will contain the concessions they’re looking for. In fact, it appears more that Rep. Hope has doubled down on his support for the bill, while being dishonest about what’s actually in the current version of the bill.
There is something to be said, however, about a “carrot and stick” approach to the application of pressure to politicians. A great many conservatives have contacted Rep. Hope directly and engaged in conversation with him. These conversations have been mostly filled with form letter style responses, as mentioned above, but some interesting information has been gathered. For example, Rep. Hope has allegedly claimed to have not read legislation, and even blamed particular Statesmen for his failure to understand the goings on of the bills being voted on (this pertains specifically to HB 1934). These conservatives were offering Rep. Hope a “carrot,” explaining to him why they were upset and offering forgiveness and future support should he withdraw his support for these bills.
While these conservatives were engaging, or rather attempting to engage, the Representative in discussion, others were publicly blasting him on his seeming lack of principle. The “stick” consisted of warnings to Rep. Hope of the political consequences for willingly betraying the grassroots conservative Republicans. He was told, in no uncertain terms, that he would find reelection to his position, or election to another office, exceedingly difficult to manage as conservatives are not willing to support those who openly betray their oaths of office and the principles that have made the Grand Old Party a strong ally of liberty. One might argue that both the “carrot” and the “stick” are needed to persuade politicians to do the right thing.
There’s an old adage: "When people who are honestly mistaken learn the truth, they will either cease being mistaken, or cease being honest!” It remains to be seen which of these two paths Rep. Hope will take in the end, but whether we have succeed in persuading him or simply caused him to show his true colors, putting on the pressure was worth it. The test is a good one for all politicians. Rep. Walsh took the right path. Other politicians are taking notice of what is happening and what will happen with Rep. Hope’s political career. This whole controversy is a useful lesson for all political activists. It’s certain that no strategy is 100% effective, and it would be unwise to think that any politician can be corrected 100% of the time. That being said, a healthy skepticism should be maintained regarding our elected officials, even when they are from our own party. Constant vigilance must be maintained in defense of our rights. Politicians respond to pressure and it’s time for conservative activists to use it in their own party.