Lakewood forum, Oct. 7: Seventeen legislative candidates were asked where they stood on I-1098. Two Democrats said held up signs that said yes. The rest were I-don’t-knows.
OLYMPIA, Oct. 29.—People dreamed big when Washington state’s income-tax initiative was announced last spring. It was going to energize the state Democratic party, send legions of “progressive” voters to the polls, and give Democratic candidates the oomph they needed when election day finally arrived on Nov. 2.
Remember when people were saying that?
Really – they did say it. You can look it up.
Well, a funny thing happened on the way to election day. Not only is this year’s election shaping up as one of the biggest Republican rebounds since 1994, but an enormous number of Democratic candidates have been running as far as they can from Initiative 1098. An even larger number – mainly incumbents, presumably wiser for their experience – appear to have said nothing at all on the subject.
What was supposed to be the big selling point for Democrats this year has turned out to be an albatross around their necks.
Quarter of Democrats Declare Opposition
Washington State Wire took an exhaustive – or at least exhausting – look at the public statements made by the 101 Democratic candidates for state Legislature this year. A full quarter of them – 26 – have declared their opposition to Initiative 1098, in campaign forums, speeches, candidate questionnaires and newspaper interviews.
Thirty-seven of them said they support it.
And another 37 either ducked the question, said it all depends or they didn’t know, or have made no statements that can be located with a reasonably diligent search on the Internet. It’s possible that some of them said something and their hometown paper didn’t report it. Or that during the course of the campaign nobody bothered asking them about one of the biggest public-policy issues of the year. It’s just that if any of them expressed an opinion, they didn’t do it very loudly.
All of which goes to show that the soak-the-rich income tax didn’t turn out to be the hot ticket for the Dems this year that it was supposed to be.
Prospects Once Looked So Bright
At this point, it’s a little hard to remember how things seemed last April, when Bill Gates, Sr. launched the campaign. Washington, one of seven states in the country that have no income tax, has rejected the idea so many times since the great Depression that it has been called the third rail of Washington politics. But this was going to be different. Voters weren’t being asked to tax themselves – they were being asked to tax rich people, those who made more than $200,000 a year.
The first poll, by Survey USA, found the idea passing with 66 percent of the vote.
The measure made the ballot with heavy backing from the Service Employees International Union. Nearly every Democratic organization in the state endorsed the measure, including the state Democratic party.
Was Going to Transform Politics
“This is another issue where the public is ahead of the politicians and the conventional wisdom,” said spokesman Sandeep Kaushik.
And if you want to get an idea of what the left was thinking during those heady first few weeks, all you have to do is read a blog posting from Trevor Griffey, Jr., on the late, belated Olympia News Wire site on April 24. The income-tax initiative was going to draw millions of income-tax enthusiasts to the polls on Nov. 2 and pound a stake into the heart of the Republican party.
“Love it or hate it, the income tax initiative will profoundly upset the Republican party’s plans for a major backlash in 2010,” he explained.
“The income tax could mobilize liberal voters to come to the polls in a way that would disrupt any kind of easy Republican party victories… No matter which way the vote goes, simply having the issue on the ballot will itself transform the 2010 midterm election, and will hurt Republican plans to chip away at Democratic majorities in the Legislature.”
Dems Felt Pressure
Turns out it was the other way around, and savvy Democrats in swing districts and those outside the Seattle area have been running as if someone let off a great big stinkbomb.
Part of it might have to do with the fact that the initiative has done a steady fade. Every poll since the first has shown a steady decline in support, to the point where it looks like next Tuesday’s results are going to kill the idea so dead that it will never rise from the grave. The latest, from the Washington Poll, shows the initiative failing among likely voters 54-43.
But it’s not that Democratic candidates started deserting when they figured out which way the wind was blowing, said Cathy Allen, a prominent Seattle-based Democratic consultant. It’s that only in the last few months has it become safe – and even prudent, in some districts – to declare opposition.
“It’s all been about the power of [House Speaker] Frank Chopp,” Allen said. “Frank Chopp in particular has said from the very beginning, keep to the message of what’s going to be cut if we don’t pass this. Many of them who have been trying to stay loyal to Frank have erred on the side of supporting 1098. And others have been saying, ‘get me as far away from this as possible.”
Many incumbent Democrats have said privately that they would like to oppose the measure, but have failed to do so publicly for fear of offending their party’s leaders.
Hunter Says No
Whatever the reason, huge numbers of Democratic candidates seem to be saying no thanks to the help they were supposed to get from 1098. Washington State Wire’s look at the published record indicates that most who declared for the initiative are first-time candidates who made their support known before the August primary, or are incumbents who represent safe districts in the Seattle area. Meanwhile, many who made public statements in opposition did so in the last month.
Among the surprises is Ross Hunter, D-Medina, the House Finance Committee chairman. He had given an ambiguous answer to a questionnaire that was been published in the Issaquah Press Oct. 12. “I am not categorically opposed to an income tax in general, but have some specific concerns about this specific proposal.”
Republican opponent Diane Tebelius hammered him for it that day at a campaign forum at the Kirkland Rotary Club. Said the Kirkland Reporter: “Hunter, who had not taken a public stance on the idea, clarified that he is against the initiative when asked by Tebelius.”
State Sen. Claudia Kauffman, D-Kent, battling from behind in a race with Republican Joe Fain, announced her opposition in Indian Country Today on Sept. 22.
State Rep. Deb Eddy, D-Kirkland, announced her opposition with a recent posting on her personal blog.
State Rep. Larry Springer responded early in the campaign to a questionnaire from Enterprise Washington: “I have not taken a position at this time.” Looks like he finally did. A story published in the Kirkland Reporter Oct. 20 indicated that he was “definitively” opposed.
Many Keep Silent
You can’t draw any conclusions about those who haven’t made any public statements, or at least haven’t made any that can be found on the Internet. But it’s interesting to see how many Democratic candidates took no position when they were cornered, or gave an ambiguous answer.
There’s Randy Gordon, for instance. In response to a questionnaire from the Issaquah Press, he made the curious – and absolutely incorrect – argument that he was forbidden to answer.
“State senators are prohibited from using state funds to advocate for or against an initiative to the people. I will support the people’s decision.”
And maybe the most dramatic demonstration came at a Lakewood candidate forum Oct. 7, sponsored by the local chamber of commerce. Seventeen legislative candidates sat in a row. As the chamber asked questions, they held up signs to indicate their response.
When it came to 1098, all the Republicans held up “no” signs, of course. But on the Democratic side, there were only two yeses. The rest were I don’t knows.
Hey, What Do You Expect?
Kaushik these days says the big Democratic snub is to be expected. “It’s no big surprise,” he said. “The Legislature has been afraid for many years to go near the kind of tax reform that Initiative 1098 provides.”
But Mark Funk, spokesman for the Defeat 1098 campaign, said Kaushik had it right the first time. This is definitely one case where the public is ahead of the politicians.
“More and more Democrats running for the legislature, incumbents and challengers alike, are coming to the conclusion that Initiative 1098 and its income tax aren’t the answer to the state’s budget problems, neither short term nor long term,” he said. “I suspect they are hearing that from constituents at just about every candidates forum, Rotary Club debate or League of Women Voters function they attend.”
Democrats Who Have Announced Opposition to I-1098
Here’s a rundown on the Democratic candidates this year who have announced opposition to Initiative 1098 in some form of public statement – candidate questionnaires, interviews, public forums or some other means. Keep in mind that there may be others – these are just the ones that Washington State Wire was able to find.
Why just Democrats? There hasn’t been a single Republican who has announced support for the income-tax measure. It’s the sort of thing that might get them drummed out of the Rotary Club.
District 2 – Marilyn Rasmussen, House candidate
District 5 – Greg Hoover, House candidate
District 6 – State Rep. John Driscoll, D-Spokane, and state Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane.
District 17 – Monica Stonier, House candidate
District 18 – Dennis Kampe, House candidate
District 19 – State Rep. Dean Takko, D-Longview
District 21 – State Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds
District 24 – Kevin Van de Wege, House candidate
District 26 – State Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, and state Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor.
District 27 – Jake Fey, House candidate.
District 30 – Carol Gregory, House candidate
District 31 – State Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, and Matt Richardson, Senate candidate.
District 35 – Fred Finn, House candidate, and state Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Hoodsport.
District 41 – State Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island
District 44 – State Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens
District 45 – Roger Goodman, House candidate, and state Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkand
District 47 – State Sen. Claudia Kauffman, D-Kent
District 48 – State Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, state Rep. Deb Eddy, D-Kirkland, and state Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue