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A Seattle Republican weighs the two candidates for governor her party is split over

A woman in a red jacket stands between two signs -- one saying 'Dave Reichert for governor' and the other saying 'Semi Bird for governor' -- in the window of a convention center.
Scott Greenstone
Delegates and supporters leave the Spokane Convention Center as the Washington State Republican Party convention winds down on April 20, 2024.

In the August primary, Republican voters in Washington state will have to decide between two major candidates for governor – one endorsed by their party, and one who says their party is in “disarray.”

KNKX reporter Scott Greenstone followed one Republican to the state convention last week in Spokane as she decided who to endorse.

Click "Listen" above to hear this story.


Note: This transcript is provided for reference only and may contain typos. Please confirm accuracy before quoting.

SCOTT GREENSTONE, KNKX (in interview): I assume there's not a lot of Republicans in downtown Seattle. Maybe you know all of them?

JENNA EDLUND, WA GOP delegate: Probably.

GREENSTONE (narrating): Jenna Edlund has lived in downtown Seattle for over 20 years. She moved there around the time she first got involved in the Republican Party.

EDLUND: Actually I don't think so. I think a lot of people are closeted and they hide, rightfully so.

GREENSTONE (narrating): She’s right, of course – thousands of voters downtown went for Trump in 2020. 12%.

Edlund calls herself a conservative hippie.

EDLUND: I’m all about naturopathic, holistic, plant-based — not your typical Republican.

GREENSTONE (narrating): But she’s quite involved in the party: on the state executive committee, and a delegate to the state convention, where she had to vote on who the Republican Party should endorse for governor.

Delegates had two choices: The first was frontrunner Dave Reichert.

REICHERT (in ad): For almost 40 years, our state has been lost in a wilderness of one-party rule.

GREENSTONE (narrating): A former congressman and sheriff, many feel he could have the best shot to end the longest streak of Democratic governors in any state in the nation. He’s raised 2.5 million dollars for his campaign.

EDLUND: I like what he stands for, that he wants to bring back law and order.

GREENSTONE (narrating): Reichert was not who most of the people at the convention supported, though.

JIM WALSH, Washington state Republican Party Chair: Candidate for governor of Washington Semi Bird.


GREENSTONE (narrating): Most delegates supported Semi Bird, a Black veteran and a former school board member who voted against mask mandates.

BIRD: We will make America great again in November, and we will give Olympia the Bird.

GREENSTONE (narrating): But the people in this room — Edlund is not totally sure they represent the Republican Party at large. 

EDLUND: All my friends that are Republicans are not here. Not one single friend of mine is here.

GREENSTONE (in interview): And why do you think they’re not here?

EDLUND: Let’s be honest. Who really wants to get involved in politics, right? Not many people.

GREENSTONE (narrating): Bird and Reichert supporters have been fighting online for weeks. Name calling. Some say they’re going to "irreparably splinter" the party.

EDLUND: They're ready for war.

GREENSTONE (narrating): Edlund aligns with Bird on some things. She didn’t get the COVID vaccine, and she plans to vote for Trump for president. But the day before the endorsement vote, Edlund still hadn’t decided.

EDLUND: It could go either way. You know, there's there's stuff that just came out about Bird recently, all over the news — like, you can't ignore that.

GREENSTONE (narrating): Bird admitted to The Seattle Times that he committed bank larceny 30 years ago, using his father’s name and social security number. He hadn’t disclosed that to the party during the vetting process.

The rumor bouncing around the room was he might be disqualified.

EDLUND: Could be very bad. Very bad.

GREENSTONE (narrating): That is what almost happened a few hours later.

LISA EVANS, WSRP candidate committee chair: The candidate committee determined that semi bird was not forthcoming in the vetting –

(Crowd boos and some shout "bulls—-")

GREENSTONE (narrating): During a raucous, expletive-riddled display, the majority of the 1800 delegates voted to override the disqualification.

Dave Reichert was in town, but as this happened, he announced on social media that he was pulling his name from consideration. He told a newspaper the party had been taken “hostage” by the Bird supporters.

We talked on the phone on Sunday.

REICHERT: A clown show, whatever you want to call it; it was out of control.

GREENSTONE (narrating): The party chairman disputed characterizations like Reichert's. And Reichert never showed up at the GOP convention. Semi Bird did. And by the day of the vote, Edlund had decided. The financial crimes were 30 years ago. People change. 

EDLUND: He's the only candidate here.

GREENSTONE (narrating): And she can’t represent the people who aren’t here. Candidates or friends.

(Unidentified): There's 10 ballots. I don't know how many you'll need.

GREENSTONE (narrating): People are handing out ballots county by county. Reichert’s name was still on there, despite his withdrawal. Edlund put a big check mark next to Semi Bird.

EDLUND: Shoot me later. I'm just kidding (laughs).

GREENSTONE (narrating): The vote goes over 70% for Semi Bird. His campaign has been running on volunteers for months, but now, he gets the party's fundraising support.

And Reichert doesn’t. Though, Reichert says he doesn’t need it.

In August, when the real decision gets made by the primary voters – who is Edlund voting for? I asked. She said, who knows? A lot can happen between now and then.

Scott Greenstone, KNKX News.

Scott Greenstone is a former KNKX reporter. His reporting focused on under-covered communities, and spotlighting the powerful people making decisions that affect all of us throughout Western Washington.