Purple Reign

A film by Laura Nix

In the fight to win control at the state level, Republicans have reached an historic high, capturing thirty-one legislatures in the past several years. Now the Republicans are looking for more, even in a supposedly left-leaning state like Washington. With divided knife-edge majorities in both chambers, we follow a GOP strategist as he works with socially moderate candidates, including a Latino Navy vet, to win swing districts and change the statehouse balance of power

The Backstory:

In the aftermath of the Republican off year election landslides in 2010 and 2014, where Democrats lost over a thousand state legislative seats across the nation, there are now Republican majorities in 68 of 98 state legislative bodies, with the GOP control in thirty-one states (including the nominally non-partisan Nebraska), the highest number in the party’s history.  Republicans have total control, with the legislature and the Governor, in 23 states, versus just 7 for Democrats.

This is part of a long term process.  Since the 2004 election, the Republican State Leadership Committee has raised over $140 million  to help accomplish this. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the RSLC’s counterpart, raised less than half that amount in the same period. While other groups also contributed significant amounts to these races, these numbers highlight the emphasis the GOP has put on state legislature elections in recent years.

About the Film:

From a national perspective, most people assume Washington state is all blue, with a long history of Democratic governors and senators.  The state hasn’t voted for a Republican candidate for president since 1984, with the Democratic advantage usually in double figures.  President Obama won the state by 15 points in 2012.

So it may be surprising that the Washington state legislature is actually purple, with the Senate controlled by the Republicans by a single vote, and the House controlled by a slim Democratic majority. And while the assumption is that Washington will remain blue in this year’s presidential election, the GOP is being given a fighter’s chance to win a few more seats and take total control of the legislature.

Meet Alex Hays. A former director of the Mainstream Republicans, Hays is a political consultant based in Tacoma, Washington who’s advising on 14 races in this year’s election. He’s proud to call himself pro-choice and pro-gay rights, and he’s one of many Republicans in Washington state who have discovered the road to the party’s success lies in running moderate Republican candidates in the suburbs of the Western cities.

He’s putting his strategy to the ultimate test this summer with his candidate Pablo Monroy, in a house race in the 31st district outside Tacoma. Monroy is a 28-year old brewery owning, fire-fighting Navy veteran who is also Latino.   We’ll follow Hays and Monroy as they canvass the district and hold “Pints for Pablo” in Monroy’s brewery, the Odd Otter.

Post-Election update:

Control of Legislature looks to remain split between Republicans and Democrats, with the Democrats appearing to gain at least one seat in the House, as well as in the Senate, but without changing the majority in either chamber.  If Tuesday’s results hold, Republicans would control the Senate 25-24, with the aid of one maverick Democrat, Tim Sheldon of Potlatch, who caucuses with the GOP. Meanwhile, Democrats would increase their House majority to at least 51-47, with two seats undecided as of yet.

In the right-leaning district formerly represented by a Democrat, former state lawmaker Phil Fortunato, who defeated Pablo Monroy in the primary in August, was comfortably ahead of independent Democrat Lane Walthers, a longtime firefighter and captain with East Pierce Fire & Rescue.