Washington’s Democrat-controlled legislature could field a half dozen citizen initiatives pushing back on progressive policies ranging from carbon-pricing to parents’ rights, despite what petitioners described as an intimidation campaign from the left.
The group Let’s Go Washington said it delivered six initiatives with more than 2.6 million signatures in total to the Secretary of State’s Office.
“We made it so far over the finish line that I would be totally shocked if any of these didn’t qualify,” LGW founder Brian Heywood told Fox News last week.
Indeed, during a pre-session meeting of legislators Thursday, House Speaker Rep. Laurie Jinkins told reporters she believed the initiatives had been “provisionally certified,” but may not be fully certified until mid-February.
“I’m very saddened when I think about why the initiative process was established in this state,” Jinkins, a Democrat representing Tacoma, said. Now what “we have is an ultra-wealthy, multi-millionaire buying his way onto the ballot.”
Although Heywood, a businessman who moved from California to the Evergreen State in 2010 to avoid income taxes, characterizes the initiatives as “nonpartisan,” his detractors disagree.
“You have here one MAGA multi-millionaire bankrolling a cynical effort to reduce his own taxes, without really worrying about the damage that it causes to our communities,” Aaron Ostrom, executive director of the progressive group Fuse Washington, told Fox News.
It’s “an extreme Republican agenda that takes direct aim” at schools, working families, seniors and “clean energy solutions aimed at solving the climate crisis,” he added.
LGW has faced fierce opposition. The mayor of Yakima called 911 in September to report “far right-wing petitioners at Walmart” she believed were harassing shoppers.
Last month, former Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna accused Fuse Washington, SEIU 775 and other groups of a “coordinated intimidation campaign” against LGW signature gatherers, according to a cease and desist letter reported on by The Seattle Times.
Alleged tactics included harassment of signature gatherers outside supermarkets and the creation of a hotline for reporting their locations, which was publicized by the state Democratic Party, ACLU of Washington and other groups.
“We believe in the right both to support and oppose initiatives,” ACLU of Washington political strategies director Alison Holcomb told Fox News in an emailed statement. “No one can obstruct the signature gathering process, but conversely, just as asking for a signature is a free speech right, so is asking someone not to sign. An attempt to shut down and intimidate into silence those asking voters not to sign petitions is an infringement of civil liberties.”
Heywood called it a “snitch line.” Ostrom said LGW is “trying to manufacture a controversy.”
“Signature gatherers, they will tell people anything to get their signature,” Ostrom said. “So we’re going to make sure voters know what they’re signing.”
LGW needed to secure more than 324,000 valid signatures for each of the proposals. They exceeded that figure by at least 100,000 signatures each, according to the group’s count, although the figures will likely decrease as the Secretary of State’s Office validates signatures.
The initiative with the most signatures would repeal the state’s new cap and trade program, which critics say raised Washington’s gas prices by about 45 cents per gallon. The state’s largest electric company says the law also contributed to rising energy costs, but the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission barred them from telling customers that on their bills.
“There’s this delusion on the left that there’s some club full of rich cronies that get together and smoke cigars and drink champagne and figure out ways to not pay taxes,” Heywood said. “But this is really individuals who have to drive 45 minutes each way to work every day and whose gas bill has gone up through the roof. And their groceries are more expensive because of the carbon tax.”
Other initiatives would repeal the capital gains tax, prohibit state and local income taxes, allow employees to opt out of the state’s long-term care insurance program, roll back some restrictions on when police officers can engage in vehicular pursuits and allow parents of public school students to review instructional materials and student records upon request.
The Washington ACLU opposed the latter two initiatives, arguing that police pursuits are the “second leading cause of officer-involved killing” in the state and often harm bystanders. Holcomb said the second initiative creates overly broad, burdensome requirements on schools.
Washington’s 60-day legislative session starts Monday. Legislators could adopt the initiatives and make them law right away. If they reject them or take no action, the initiatives would appear on the November ballot. Lawmakers could also put forth alternative policies which would appear next to the original initiatives on the ballot.
Ostrom said he’s “optimistic” voters in the deep blue state will reject the initiatives. Heywood, on the other hand, said he’s heard “a lot of kind words from people who felt disenfranchized.”
“If I’m wrong and the people don’t support this, then so be it,” he said. “But if I’ve tapped into people that are feeling frustrated, we’re giving people an opportunity to share their voice.”