On June 19, residents of the District of Columbia can vote in one of four party primaries: Democratic, Libertarian, DC Statehood Green, or Republican. The party with the fewest candidates in the primary is, surprisingly, the DC GOP.
Michael Bekesha, running for a council seat in Ward 6, is the only candidate for public office appearing on the party’s primary ballot. The vast majority of the District’s 27,094 registered Republicans living outside Ward 6 will be handed ballots with nothing but blank spaces for write-in candidates.
But Michael Bekesha is a surprisingly good candidate for a party with no other standard bearers, and he is getting noticed. In a write-up of a recent three-way debate between Bekesha and his two Democratic rivals, a local political blog wrote, “Bekesha’s steady, ongoing emphasis on the need for new ideas and a challenge to the Democrat-dominated Council of DC could prove to be the breath of fresh air in an otherwise very predictable race.”
Predictability is certainly a problem in DC elections. If it were a state, DC would be the most one-party state in the entire Union. With the exception of two independents, every current elected office-holder in the entire government is a Democrat. The only offices Republicans have ever successfully won since Home Rule began in 1973 have been At-Large council seats (and even then they were helped by a DC law which prevents any one party from controlling all four At-Large seats). The last Republican on the Council, Carol Schwartz, left office a decade ago.
Things have never been easy for Republicans in the District, but the party has been in decline of late. This primary season marks a new low, with no Republican so far running for any of the eight District-wide offices up for election (including Mayor, House of Representatives delegate, Attorney General, and two At-Large council seats).
With the DC GOP in such a weak state, it would be easy to expect Michael Bekesha to be just a paper candidate, going through the motions to prevent the party from disappearing altogether. His website, social media presence, and message tell a different story, however. Michael Bekesha is a surprisingly serious candidate.
And he has serious conservative credentials as well. Since 2009 Michael Bekesha has been on the legal team at Judicial Watch, which launches Freedom of Information Act lawsuits to expose alleged misconduct in government (mostly, but not all, directed against Democrats).
Bekesha has drafted legislation and testified before state legislatures, represented whistleblowers, and even deposed State Department officials about Hillary Clinton’s emails. Not the sorts of activities for winning friends among Washington’s liberal elite, but Bekesha has nevertheless managed to find common ground with his Democratic opponents on social issues, while pushing for reform in economic and fiscal areas.
At News Growl, we love an underdog. The idea of a Republican facing such long odds, at least on paper, and still putting forward a strong showing intrigued us. We asked Michael Bekesha for a chance to interview him and were delighted when he agreed.
The News Growl Interview: Michael Bekesha
News Growl: How does it feel to be the only Republican running for public office in an entire primary?
Michael Bekesha: It’s disappointing. Every single member of the 13-person council is a Democrat. And there hasn’t been a Republican on the council for 10 years. How is that acceptable?
It isn’t. It lends to groupthink. It creates an echo chamber. And it results in a real lack of accountability. Corruption breeds more easily in a one-party system, so I want to change that. DC is extremely diverse, both in socioeconomic status but also in ideas. Having a one-party Democratic council does not represent DC residents. It also doesn’t lead to new, innovative ideas.
There is no member on the council willing to question or challenge the other members. This must change. So, I am running because it’s time for new ideas and a fresh perspective on the Council. I only wish other Republicans were running with me.
NG: Are you surprised to be the only Republican running?
MB: No. Every year, running as a Republican is an uphill battle. In 2018, it’s even harder. But it’s why I am running, in part. I am disappointed in and frustrated with the direction of the national Republican Party and the hyper-partisan nature of politics today.
With a predominately Democratic citizenry, you have to be a particular type of Republican to win in DC. I am socially progressive and fiscally responsible. My wife is also a Democrat, so I am a proud member of a bipartisan marriage.
NG: What disappoints you about the direction of the national Republican Party?
MB: I think it can be best summed up as too divisive and partisan. It seems to be less a party of ideas and more a party of personality. It shouldn’t matter who has the good ideas, but it does. Very rarely does the party want to compromise. This probably can also be said for the Democratic party.
I am a Republican because of certain principles and beliefs: fiscally responsibility viewpoints such as the government should only collect the taxes it needs and not wasting the money it collects; the federal government has limited authority and should not be involved in every aspect of our lives; states and localities are better situated and equipped to help us when needed; we should promote and support businesses, especially small businesses; the best innovation comes from the private sector and we must support our law enforcement and military.
NG: You’ve got a very professional looking website and social media presence. What do you think your chances are for getting elected to the Council in the General Election in November?
MB: I wouldn’t be running if I did not believe there was a path to victory, but it won’t be easy. My goal for the remainder of the campaign is talk to as many voters as possible and demonstrate to them that the national Republican Party doesn’t represent DC Republicans.
And I’m focusing on local issues. We need more opportunities for residents of all political persuasions to come together as a community and discuss the important issues. In the end, we all want the same thing: DC and Ward 6 to be a place that not only people want to live and work in but also can. The difference is how we get there.
NG: Are you competing at a disadvantage as far as fundraising goes?
MB: In DC, the incumbent almost always has the advantage in raising money. And, because its a one-party jurisdiction, establishment Democrats raise money pretty easily. It’s a struggle not only as a challenger but also as a Republican. But, money isn’t everything. I strongly believe that there is a path to victory if talk about the issues and meet with all Ward 6 residents. As we saw in Northern Virginia during the last election cycle, many long-time majority-party incumbents lost to or came close to losing to first-time, minority-party candidates. People are tired of the status quo and craving new voices and fresh perspectives.
NG: On your website you mention your connection to Northwestern University several times. How significant is that network electorally in DC?
It’s not significant electorally, but it’s extremely important to me personally. When I first moved to DC, the Northwestern University alumni network was the way I first fell in love the District, it’s where I met my wife, and where I developed some of my closest friends. It also was the avenue I used to foster community within the DC-area.
NG: Is Ward 6 a relative stronghold for Republicans in DC?
MB: Not at all. Approximately 10% of the approximately 76,000 registered voters are registered as Republicans. However, Ward 6 residents care more about good ideas than they do about party affiliation. In 2014, more votes in Ward 6 were cast for the two independent candidates for mayor than the Democratic candidate.
NG: On Twitter you’ve supported calls for non-partisan top-two primaries – can you tell us about your stance on this?
MB: I am a strong advocate for nonpartisan elections (also, it is the current platform of the DC GOP). In DC approximately 113,000 out of 472,000 voters are not registered as Democrats. The only meaningful election is normally the Democratic primary so those voters don’t have a chance to vote or have a voice. In Ward 6, approximately 21,000 out of 76,000 registered voters are in this position.
Many large, progressive cities have nonpartisan elections. Nebraska’s Legislature does, and it is unicameral like DC. As the Atlantic noted in 2015, “nonpartisan elections are more competitive races, higher voter participation, and a more ‘functional legislature’ that works more on coalition-building than party loyalty.”
If the top two vote-getters in the primary moved on to the general election, I think that would work well in DC.
NG: Just curious. With no other Republicans currently running for any District-wide offices, why aren’t you running for Mayor?
MB: A year ago I never thought I’d run for office. Now, I am running. My wife Holly, my rescue dog Sprocket, and I all love Ward 6. We love walking through the different neighborhoods, eating and drinking at the local restaurants and bars, and engaging with our neighbors. Ward 6 has grown drastically in the past ten years, but with growth has come growing pains. It is not enough to solve current problems. We must also find ways to prepare for the future and prevent issues before they arise.
I’m running because as we grow we need to make sure Ward 6 is a strong, thriving community where everyone who wants to live here, who dreams of working here, and who seeks to make it his or her home can do just that.
NG: You very professionally avoided my question about you running for mayor, I notice. Let me try a slightly less problematic question. Do you see this as a one-time event, running for office, or as the beginning of a life of public service?
MB: Great question. The honest answer is I don’t know. I never thought I would run for office. I don’t have my life mapped out. I am running to see if I can make a difference. Ask me again after November.
More information about Micheal Bekesha is available at bekesha2018.com
What’s next for the DC GOP?
If Michael Bekesha is successful in November it would be a huge coup for local Republicans, but the lack of candidates in the primary poses another problem.
To maintain its major party status, which is what entitles it to automatic ballot access each election, the DC GOP must get at least 7,500 votes in a District-wide election every two years. With no Republicans currently running for District-wide office, the prospect of the Republican Presidential nominee having to run in DC like a minor 3rd party candidate in 2020 is theoretically possibe.
But that’s an unlikely scenario thanks to a liberalization of rules in 2015 that allow for just such a situation. Now the DC GOP can directly nominate candidates to the ballot offices when there is no primary winner, and that is exactly what they plan to do.
“The DC GOP will appoint more than a handful of additional candidates who will be on the ballot in November,” party chairman José Cunningham told News Growl. “The candidates will include a Republican to run against [US House Delegate] Eleanor Homes Norton, another for one of the At-Large DC Council seats, and numerous Ward Chairs. We’ll be announcing more about that soon.”
Despite the disappointing number of candidates appearing on the primary ballot for the Republicans, the embarrassment of an overall third place finish behind the Libertarians or the DC Statehood Green Party remains unlikely.
If 2018 represents a low point for Republicans in the district, Micheal Bekesha may represent a new, insurgent DC GOP of the future.
And if he runs for mayor in 2022, we called it first!