When the Reagan Wing first came together as an organization we already had big ambitions for the Republican Party. We knew that the conservative movement had been treacherously sabotaged by Republican leadership in Washington State. We believed that all the components of a great grassroots political movement, a movement that could dominate Washington State and change the course of its government had already come into and, in large measure, gone back out of the Republican Party out of frustration over that bad leadership. We believed that with good leadership an enormous core of activists we had known over the decades could be re-awakened and energized. And we believed that if we could re-activate and unify even a fraction of that core we could replace bad leadership with good to get the ball rolling.
We wanted, therefore, to reach out and develop coalitions with all the disconnected components of the Conservative Movement and I was specifically directed, by national leadership, to seek out (among others) Joe Fuiten, the central organizer of a Washington State religious juggernaut with political ambtions.
Fuiten’s Cedar Park Assembly of God church, a huge 46 acre complex in Bothell, is the central location of innumerable cross-indexed multi-purpose “ministries,” meetings, staff and programs, some replicating, some only seeming to replicate functions or designations within a dizzying array of official names. Don’t, for instance, confuse “The Chapel at Cedar Park” with “Cedar Park Church” or “The Chapel of the Ressurrection” although they all, technically, occupy the same address and fealty to Fuiten. They only share some common functions and what is going on in a given building at a given time might be any of those three, distinctly different ministries… or some other “ministry” or political activity. The radical left-wing Seattle Weekly reported, not only “eight branches throughout the Puget Sound area… several schools, …a funeral home,… a cemetery,…. a food bank, and an auto shop,” in fact, a “$13.8 million-a-year, 400-employee corporation,” but they also noted that Fuiten, himself, “could be taken for a CEO or a politician as easily as a preacher.” No kidding. It is difficult not to be impressed… or at least confused.
Liberal Washington State GOP Chair Chris Vance and the (New York-based) Washington State Bush Campaign both praised Fuiten as their “go-to guy” for local religious conservatives. The person to lead the flock. Here was a contender for the religious brass ring. The ring of power.
When we first made contact, Fuiten was guiding what was called “WERG” (Washington Evangelicals for Responsible Government). It was defined as a “lobbying group” of good will towards men (of government) and, hence, officially open as Fuiten’s political institution. But it soon was re-titled “Faith and Freedom Network,” and, continuing Fuiten’s propensity to reproduce mirror organizations with new names, spawned the “PCA” or Positive Christian Agenda,” and morphed its image from a lobbying group for Evangelical Protestants into a broader working coalition of Religious and conservative political organizations. The Reagan Wing added its name to the list.
One of our Reagan Wing founders (we’ll call him “Bill”) went well beyond “adding a name” to the growing list on our behalf, and personally joined Fuiten, giving untold hours of volunteer help, both because we believed in the movement, but also believing we could build a bridge of cooperation between the organizations. When Fuiten went seeking press interviews at Vance’s Meydenbauer election night watch party in November 2004, Bill was his media front man, lining up the TV cameras.
Over the next few months of cooperation, we got to know Rev. Fuiten through Bill.
Bill started attending Fuiten’s meetings, seeing the strategy and giving input, and we both collaborated, several times, on written material for Fuiten.
At first, Fuiten’s strategy was baffling. Traditional marriage has a big, big majority everywhere in the country (70% in Massachusetts, for instance). Yet all Fuiten’s activities were directed as if it were a new idea and had to be promoted. All that was needed (and still is) is to direct already existing support for Traditional Marriage to effective action. For instance, Fuiten could have run a ballot initiative to stop or prevent the effects of unlawful decisions by http://www.thereaganwing.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=PagEd&file=index&page_id=55“>William Downing</a> or <a href=”http://www.thereaganwing.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=PagEd&file=index&page_id=76“>Richard Hicks</a>. But, instead he led the coalition for hours discussing how to craft pro-Marriage arguments that wouldn’t offend homosexuals (as if they were trying to woo the media). They planned a massive campaign of yard signs to say something like “Marriage: one man, one woman” as if they thought they had to convince general public to agree with them.
And it was 2004; Fuiten could have used the vast Marriage Majority to promote a Senate candidate that, if elected, would actually have supported the Federal Marriage Amendment or tried to get a strong platform plank in the State Republican Platform. But, instead, he held a “Mayday for Marriage” Rally at Safeco Field that drew marriage supporters AWAY from the King County Republican Convention and made the star of it George Nethercutt who, whatever else he was, didn’t support the Marriage Amendment! It was as if he was intentionally gathering social conservatives and then leading them in the wrong direction. At first, we just chalked it up to inexperience or naiveté. Boy, were we wrong! Fuiten is a pragmatic politician, first and foremost, and has always been. He just had his own agenda. Everything he did was aimed at collecting a large following. Supporting the Republican establishment candidate was more advantageous than supporting an advocate for Marriage. Avoiding offending the media helped acquire favorable press. What mattered to Joe at the end of the day was being in front of a larger crowd, even at the expense of the cause he was leading.
We also worked with Joe on written material in defense of conservatism (for which he was presented as a spokesman) for the press. He would compose, we would write suggested changes, he re-submitted, and so forth. That process, I must tell you, was shocking. Again, we assumed, at first, that it was political inexperience by a pastor fresh to the field, because his work output was neither Conservative nor particularly Christian.
In retrospect, Fuiten seems to have been either copying the Chris Vance playbook or reading from the early campaign rhetoric of Mike McGavick, when the latter was trying to sound like a conservative. But why would the pastor be faking it? Fuiten was unable to define any limits to government, constitutional or otherwise, instead talking of “general tendencies” to “rely” on the private sector as the “first line of help.” Like McGavick, Fuiten saw government as a “general problem solver.” As we pointed out in 2005, this is neither conservatism, nor a restraint on government at all, but a loose set of ineffective contingencies. Fuiten attempted to define his political vision by sketching out a fuzzy quasi-philosophy; using conservative “sounding” phrases, but setting them in a framework of collectivist (or “liberal”) thought.
And he dropped the bombshell when he claimed that conservatives actually support government pork “at the current levels.” It was a complete rejection of fiscal conservatism. All over America, State to State, County to County there are are different levels of social spending, much of it unconscionable. Planned Parenthood gets hundreds of millions. How could he think conservatives support all these divergent levels of government spending? It was nothing but a compromising amoral campaign strategy masquerading as philosophy. He was, with the statement, assuring potential special-interest constituencies that the candidates he supports would never cut their funding. This is the sort of insupportable nonsense that has our nation gradually ratcheting to full socialism: two steps sideways, one step back. Still, we ignored the warnings. We still cut him slack for philosophical “ignorance” We thought he might just be parroting what others had said. He seemed a political empty suit. We knew he wasn’t conservative, but we hoped he might be just clueless, teachable.
But Joe Fuiten’s attacks on the Reagan Wing, the right to life, conservative candidates, R-65, and, of course, Tim Eyman were still in the future.