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News / Northwest

State GOP chair files 3 new initiatives to Washington state voters

Measures focus on immigration, phase-out of natural gas

By Claire Withycombe, The Seattle Times
Published: April 11, 2024, 5:04pm

OLYMPIA — The chair of the state’s Republican Party is attempting to get three more initiatives on Washington’s November ballot, with the latest round taking on controversial issues heading into the 2024 campaign season.

State GOP Chair Jim Walsh, also a state representative from Aberdeen, says the issues driving the new petitions have been the three most common topics — immigration, “squatters” on residential property and efforts to phase out natural gas — raised at recent GOP town hall meetings across the state.

“They’re real,” he said, denying they are efforts to stoke outrage to drive voter turnout.

The new measures, filed in late March, are among dozens of initiatives filed this year so far, and filing is merely an initial step in the process that takes significant work and money to qualify for the election. But if backers do succeed in getting enough valid signatures, they would join an already crowded ballot.

Not only is it a year with a presidential election, an open governor’s seat and a host of other races, but Washington voters will also be weighing in on three other initiatives backed by the state GOP. One would repeal the state’s capital gains tax, another would repeal its carbon market, and a third would effectively kill a long-term care insurance program by making the payroll tax that funds it optional.

The new “No ‘squatters’ rights’ in WA” initiative, as drafted, would largely apply to situations in which someone without a lease agreement is present on someone else’s property, sometimes called “squatting.” But one version would also roll back a hotly debated tenant protection the Legislature passed in 2021 that barred evictions without a valid reason.

While instances of squatting are uncommon, a dust-up in Bellevue between a renter and a landlord — and a series of related “landlords’ rights” protests — has driven interest in the issue locally as it has also gained steam as a right-wing issue nationally.

Another initiative would require law enforcement agencies in the state to cooperate with federal authorities in enforcing federal immigration law, rolling back Washington’s “sanctuary state” status. Washington passed a law in 2019 that largely bars local law enforcement agencies from asking about immigration status, and from sharing information with federal immigration enforcement authorities.

The third proposed initiative would repeal House Bill 1589, a controversial measure legislators passed earlier this year that is meant to help Puget Sound Energy comply with emissions requirements set out in earlier legislation, including the state’s Climate Commitment Act. (Separately, voters are also being asked on the November ballot to consider whether to keep or repeal the Climate Commitment Act, which created Washington’s carbon market).

Last year, there was a national controversy over gas stoves after members of the U.S. Senate and House asked the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to look into the health risks of emissions from gas stoves — and a member of the commission suggested phasing out the stoves could be an option.

For each of the new proposed initiatives, supporters have about three months to get about 324,500 valid signatures to get it on the ballot. The signatures are due by 5 p.m. on July 5. Walsh says they will aim to get more than 400,000 signatures on each.

Walsh said there are several versions of each initiative filed with the secretary of state, in line with common practice, in order to test before a single version of each initiative petition is chosen to use for signature gathering.

Shasti Conrad, chair of the Washington State Democrats, described the most recent initiatives as “a cheap ploy” for Republicans to try to dial up turnout.

“I think that it’s partially a failure on their end to find candidates that are inspiring and energizing for both their base and for Washingtonians across the state,” Conrad said. “And therefore, instead of focusing on winning races, they are turning to these issues that they think will drive out turnout for them.”

“The Chair of the State Democrats is clearly stuck in obsolete political strategies and tactics,” Walsh said in a text message. “This is 2024. Commonsense conservatives are going to do in all of Washington what we did in (Legislative District) 19.”

Walsh was elected to the state House from the 19th district in 2016, flipping the seat Republican. Four years later, the other House seat in the district, and the district’s Senate seat, flipped to Republican as well.

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However, Walsh did acknowledge in an interview that “there may be an element of messaging” in the three most recent initiatives and getting them on the ballot will be “tough.”

“We’ll get the message out about these issues,” Walsh said. “And if we don’t qualify now, we’ll try it again later.”