The PAC has raised $310,000 in a few months. Bryant, a Republican, says it will fill a gap in local, often nonpartisan, races that are overlooked by the state GOP and business allies.

Share story

Since losing the 2016 gubernatorial election, Bill Bryant has not exactly retreated from the political scene.

From the social-media sidelines, the Republican and former Seattle port commissioner regularly slams Gov. Jay Inslee and Democratic legislators on topics including controversial car-tab fees and a proposed carbon tax.

Perhaps of more consequence, Bryant has recently launched a new political group aimed at building a bench of like-minded candidates for local elected offices, such as mayor, city council and school board.

The nascent political-action committee, Forge Washington, was registered with the state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) on Nov. 8, exactly one year after Bryant’s 2016 election loss.

The PAC has raised $310,000 in a few months, relying mostly on a dozen or so five-and-six figure contributors.

Bryant and some top donors describe Forge as filling a gap in local, often nonpartisan, races that are overlooked by the state Republican Party and business allies.

Forge’s officers include Bryant, his former campaign manager and his former campaign spokesman, according to nonprofit incorporation papers filed Oct. 26 with the Secretary of State’s office. Its treasurer also was Bryant’s 2016 campaign treasurer.

Despite those connections, Bryant says Forge is not about his own political ambitions, but it aims to help candidates who share his values.

“The issues you care about don’t disappear after Election Day,” he said recently.

“If you care about Puget Sound, you need to have city councils and county commissioners who care,” Bryant said. “If you want to focus on education reform at the real granular level, you need to elect school-board members who are open to innovation in schools.”

The group’s largest donor so far is investment-company executive Brian Heywood, of Redmond, who gave $100,000 to the PAC on Feb. 9.

Heywood is CEO and founding partner of Taiyo Pacific Partners, a Kirkland-based firm that manages roughly $2 billion in investments, largely in companies based in Japan and India.

On Tuesday, Heywood said he moved his company from California several years ago, driven away by that state’s regulations and higher taxes, including an income tax. In a Facebook post this past year, he described himself as “an economic refugee from Kalifornia.”

Heywood says he gave to Bryant’s new group because he has seen his adopted state’s politics moving in California’s direction, pointing for example to Seattle’s efforts to impose an income tax on the wealthy.

“I could smell it happening here in Washington,” he said. “I could smell it at the local level, when you start getting this insane government creep.”

Heywood said unified Democratic control of both houses of the Legislature and governor’s office could further that slide.

“I think one-party control on either side is actually quite cancerous because there is no accountability,” he said.

Heywood’s occupation is listed as “horse boarding” in a PDC filing disclosing his $100,000 Forge donation. He owns a ranch and stable near his home, cutting his own hay on a 40-acre spread of protected farmland near Sixty Acres Park in the Sammamish River Valley.

Heywood named his ranch Galt Valley Ranch, after John Galt, a character in author Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged,” which promotes the virtues of unfettered capitalism. The book has served as an inspiration for conservative politicians including U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan. (Heywood donated $25,000 to a Ryan political committee two years ago.)

Heywood hosted a fundraiser for Republican state Senate candidate Jinyoung Englund this past year, but his contribution to Forge is, by far, his largest in Washington state politics, according to PDC filings.

Other top donors to Forge include the Puget Sound Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association, which gave $50,000. The chapter’s executive director, Barry Sherman, said in an email that Forge will back candidates who support “a free market, progressive approach to improve the business climate and create family wage careers …”

Jerry VanderWood, chief lobbyist for the Associated General Contractors of Washington, whose PAC chipped in $25,000, said Forge can help “fill the pipeline” with business-friendly candidates in local offices.

That bench of elected leaders could gain experience to later move on to legislative or even statewide contests, he said.

Forge has spent roughly $50,000 so far, mostly on wages and legal fees, as well as printing, some travel and catering, and a rudimentary website, according to PDC filings.

Despite its stated focus on local races, Forge has run online ads criticizing Inslee and Democrats in the Legislature for pushing a tax on carbon emissions to combat climate change.

“Do you want gas to go up 9 to 30 cents?” the ads asked. Bryant said that was just a small-scale experiment that cost about $20.

With few local races on the ballot this year, Bryant said the group will mostly spend its time getting organized for 2019, when it could aid candidates with training, donor lists and voter data.

As for his own future, Bryant said he is not at the moment planning another political run himself.

“People talk to me about it all the time,” he said, but “I am a long, long way from anything like that.”