With much-diminished numbers in the state Legislature, Republican lawmakers can still make positive changes.
In November’s election, the Democrats cleaned up in Washington state, snatching a seat in Congress and extending their control in Olympia
Before the election they held the state Senate by a single vote, 25-24. Now they’re up 28-21. In the House, they held 50 seats to the Republicans’ 48. Now they’re on top 57-41. In King County the word “Republican” is associated with “Donald Trump,” and not in a good way. Not a single legislator whose district is inside the county line was re-elected.
So what should the Republicans do? When you’re down this many votes, it’s assumed you’ll be spending the next couple years playing defense.
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Actually, they should do precisely the opposite: Play offense.
The Republicans need an agenda that matters to voters, not interest groups — an agenda that will win back parts of King County. Does that mean moving leftward? No, Washington voters aren’t liberal; they’re a hybrid of right and left — progressive on social issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and marijuana, but conservative on fiscal issues, such as support for supermajorities to raise taxes and opposition to new taxes, as illustrated by the 13-point thumping of last November’s “pollution fee” (gas tax) Initiative 1631. They also believe in personal responsibility and accountability.
So here is an agenda that will put the Republicans squarely on the side of their party’s historic principles and appeal to a wide array of voters — I would guess 80 percent of Republicans, at least 60 percent of independents and even a third or more of Democrats. This agenda reveals clear party differences worth voting for:
Reduce the sales tax. Democrats endlessly complain (correctly) that our tax system favors the wealthy over the working class, but it’s become a cynical talking point. When the Seattle City Council approved a progressive city income tax (later struck down in court), it wasn’t in exchange for lower taxes on the working poor; it was simply an add-on.
The Republicans should lead the drive to cut one of the highest state sales taxes in America by 0.5 percent. We can afford it. The state has received more than 25 percent in additional revenue in just the past four years. Cutting the sales tax will rebate about $1.7 billion from the $4 billion additional revenue expected in the new biennium.
Make a third DUI offense a felony. Require an automatic five-year sentence for a fourth offense and 10 years for a fifth and every subsequent DUI conviction. Last month, 44-year-old Wade Henderson, with five previous DUIs on his record, was accused of hitting and killing a 24-year-old bicyclist in Renton. He was speeding and high on PCP, according to police. Why go easy on someone who drives drunk or high after two previous DUIs? The Republicans should file this bill as an initiative if the Democrats block it in the Legislature (which they likely will). It will pass with 80 percent of the vote, I estimate.
End freeway toll lanes. More than a dozen years ago the gas tax was raised to, among other things, build an additional lane of Interstate 405 north of Bellevue to the Interstate 5 onramp. Before completion, the new lane’s designation was switched from general purpose to a carpool/high-occupancy-toll (HOT) lane, allowing single-occupancy vehicles to use the lane in exchange for a toll ranging from less than a dollar to $10.
But the state Transportation Department changed the definition of “carpool” from two people to three people, which pushed more than 80 percent of carpools to the general driving lanes, while carpool lanes doubled to two. Essentially, the Transportation Department found a way to deliberately create more congestion to fatten the tolling revenue stream. If DOT gets away with this, every major highway in the state will face the same rip-off. Solution: End freeway toll lanes and reduce artificial traffic congestion. This legislation won’t stand a chance in this Legislature, so again, the Republicans should file the bill simultaneously as an initiative. This debate needs to happen.
No heroin injection sites anywhere. In the name of “ending” homelessness, Seattle and King County government have spent hundreds of millions of dollars enabling and encouraging it, which inevitably expanded it. Latest bright idea? Give heroin users a “safe place” to inject. The courts wouldn’t let King County voters vote on it, but they can’t prevent the state from passing a law prohibiting local governments from being an accessory to a felony. Republican legislators should file a bill banning injection sites everywhere, and again, simultaneously file it as an initiative to the people.
Require “sanctuary cities” to make financial restitution to victims of crimes committed by illegal immigrants with criminal records.
Going forward, if local officials want to protect criminals living here illegally, let those local governments pay the cost of their crimes. This is another bill that should be simultaneously filed as an initiative because protecting illegal immigrants with criminal records is probably the last subject the Democrats want to debate on the floor of the House and Senate.
This is how Republicans start to recover their momentum — by taking clear positions on bold proposals that challenge and change the status quo. If they want people to change how they vote, give people change worth voting for.