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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Donnelly: Six initiatives offer voters rare opportunity

By Ann Donnelly
Published: February 3, 2024, 6:01am

Washington voters this November will be checking their ballots for president, governor and many more offices, yet their best route to change our state’s direction may lie with six ballot initiatives. Activist group Let’s Go Washington, led by businessman Brian Heywood, has successfully guided all six measures to certification by the Secretary of State. Combined, the six overturn the most extreme examples of Washington’s progressive legislative overreach.

Heywood’s well-designed strategies explain the ultimate success of this labor-intensive effort.

First, the six issues, each addressing a persuasive topic, combine to attract centrist voters. I-2117 repeals the Climate Commitment Act, commonly viewed as contributing to our state’s high gasoline prices. I-2109 rolls back the tax on capital gains, regarded as the progressives’ theft of income. I-2111 explicitly bans state and local governments from taxing income. I-2113 loosens restrictions somewhat on law enforcement in vehicle pursuits. I-2081 affirms the right of public school parents to review student records, including their health and disciplinary information. It gives parental access to curricula and allows parents to opt their children out of school sex education classes. I-2124, the last to be certified on Jan. 25, empowers workers to opt out of the long-term health insurance tax and program, which has already drawn legislative attempts to fix what is widely regarded as a flawed concept.

Heywood and team trusted that prospective initiative signers would pause on street corners to sign six forms at a time. He made the pragmatic decision to supplement thousands of volunteers with paid signature gatherers. For each initiative, this move gained a comfortable excess of signatures over the 405,000 recommended by the Secretary of State. Repeal of the Climate Commitment Act proved the most popular, with 469,000.

A successful hedge fund executive, Heywood made the pivotal decision to loan or donate nearly $6 million himself to the effort.  The theory, proved accurate, was that the number of enthusiastic initiative signers outweighed available volunteer hours, thus the need for supplementary paid labor. Heywood has now broadened the movement’s base of financial support, forming partnerships with groups Restore Washington, Family Policy Institute and others.

As profiled in eenews.net (Jan. 23), Heywood is equally comfortable out front at the podium or working behind the scenes. He is not interested in running for office, terming elections “such a messy, ugly, dirty world.” He prefers going directly to voters.

For his success in the initiative drive, he credits his youthful Mormon missionary work in Japan, knocking on thousands of doors. For his understanding of the economic stresses on struggling families, he points to his self-starting rise from modest means before winning acceptance at Harvard and later succeeding in the financial world.

From now to Election Day, the outlook for the initiatives is complex. One or more of the six initiatives may be preempted if the Legislature enacts it into law first. Furthermore, the Legislature has the option to place an alternative initiative on the ballot. House Democrats are now introducing a bill, H.B. 2459, to require such an alternative to be accompanied by a disclosure attempting to project what state budget impacts the alternative would avoid. Their theory is that money removed from government and left with taxpayers leads to a harmful outcome.

It will be up to initiative supporters to prove the very opposite: that money left in the private sector helps families and a vibrant economy, that police need more decision-making power and that parents have the right to be involved in all aspects of their children’s education.