John Braun: Democrats react to initiative pressure with disrespect, disinformation


I don’t know which is worse: How the Legislature’s Democratic leaders are disrespecting the 800,000-plus Washingtonians who signed petitions in support of the six voter initiatives before the Senate and House, or how they have already resorted to spreading disinformation about the initiatives.

Let’s start with the disrespect of voters, which also extends to Washington’s constitution and its requirement that initiatives shall take precedence over all other measures except budgets.

Republicans interpret the constitutional mandate as meaning the committees to which the initiatives are referred should hold hearings, at a minimum. After weeks of relentless pressure from our side and the public, the top Democrats in the Senate and House agreed — on day 40 of our 60-day session.

Stating the obvious, they said committee hearings “will allow us to gather more information and hear from the public and others so that we can make informed decisions.”

While these hearings represent a huge win for the people, and I’m proud of the role Republicans have had in getting this far, there’s a catch: the Democrats’ bit about making informed decisions applies to just half of the initiatives.

Only Initiative 2111 (ban all income taxes in Washington), Initiative 2081 (give parents more rights concerning their children’s education) and Initiative 2113 (let police pursue criminals again) are in line for public hearings.

The Democrats show no desire to gather more information and hear from the public about the other three initiatives: Initiative 2117, to repeal cap-and-trade, which is driving up gasoline and energy costs; Initiative 2109, to repeal the capital-gains income tax; and Initiative 2124, to end the mandatory payroll tax tied to the inadequate, state-run long-term care program.

The laws those initiatives would repeal take billions of dollars in taxes from Washingtonians and give them to state government. Apparently, that’s all our colleagues across the aisle care to know.

The hearings for I-2111, I-2081 and I-2113 will be Tuesday and Wednesday (Feb. 27 and 28) and last only one hour each. That’s not much time for people to be heard, but still, I encourage you to visit our webpage and read the section about the initiatives. It has all sorts of valuable information –—including how to sign up to testify in person, virtually and in writing, or at least submit your opinion to have it counted.

At this point, it appears the three initiatives will also be brought up for committee votes. If they are passed and reach the floor of the Senate and House, Republicans will support them. Any initiative not enacted by the Legislature when the session ends March 7 goes to the ballot, meaning people must then wait until November to be heard.

For perspective, no voter initiative to the Legislature has been denied a public hearing since 2012, when Initiative 502 proposed to decriminalize marijuana. The Democrat-controlled House wouldn’t touch that measure, while the Democrat-controlled Senate held only a work session. That meant no public testimony, only a discussion.

Between 2013 and 2017, when Republicans led the Senate, six initiatives to the Legislature were submitted. We held hearings on each, no matter the intent. In 2014 one of the measures was Initiative 594, to require background checks for firearm sales and transfers. In 2016 we had a hearing on Initiative 732, which would have created a carbon-pollution tax, of all things.

To be fair, the Democrats who controlled the House during that same period also held hearings on every initiative submitted. Those included Initiative 591, a no-background-check measure that was largely the opposite of I-594. Whether they held hearings to avoid suffering from comparison with the Senate is a fair question, but either way the constitution was followed.

Today’s Democrats clearly take a different view, acting as though they are above the constitution — while stooping to spread disinformation.

We’ve already heard claims that are untrue, and you can expect to hear more. One myth already making the rounds is that repealing the capital-gains tax would “devastate” K-12 education. This is easily debunked because Washington’s constitution requires schools to be funded no matter what.

Recently the Senate transportation-committee chair began declaring, in multiple posts on his official Senate social-media site, that money generated by cap-and-trade pays for preserving and maintaining roads and bridges, and projects like highway widening. This is fundamentally untrue, as those dollars can only go to “carbon-reducing” projects like bicycle lanes and pedestrian paths.

We foresee more false claims that repealing the cap-and-trade law will cancel or put at risk transportation projects that aren’t supported by cap-and-trade money in the first place.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just disinformation. The Senate’s supplemental operating budget offers a single $200 payment per qualifying low- and moderate-income household to help with utility bills — a clear admission that cap-and-trade is inflating energy costs. The corresponding House budget proposed splitting the $200: $100 before the November election, and the other $100 only if I-2117 fails. Do Democrats think your vote can be bought?

Republicans believe all six of this year’s initiatives should be treated equally. Washington’s constitution does not say to give precedence to half the initiatives and ignore the rest. Yet our Democratic colleagues refuse to listen to the voters on three of the measures, choosing instead to take the low road with their false claims.

Are they afraid of the voters? Do they just think they know better? I don’t know. Whatever it is, it’s not good. Our constitution requires legislators to do better.


Sen. John Braun of Centralia serves the 20th Legislative District, which spans parts of four counties from Yelm to Vancouver. He became Senate Republican leader in 2020.