Last week’s announce­ment from a group of State Sen­a­tors of a new trans­porta­tion pack­age has dom­i­nat­ed the polit­i­cal news in Wash­ing­ton State. NPI founder Andrew Vil­leneuve explained the numer­ous flaws of this pro­pos­al here on the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate. But it’s also worth tak­ing a step back and exam­in­ing what this pro­pos­al means for the future of our state — and of its polit­i­cal leadership.

Its unveil­ing ought to be inter­pret­ed by Democ­rats as a sign that the new Repub­li­can Par­ty — much more extrem­ist, pow­er-hun­gry, and deter­mined to destroy Democ­rats rather than gov­ern effec­tive­ly — has final­ly arrived in Wash­ing­ton State.

For the last thir­ty-five years, the Wash­ing­ton Repub­li­can Par­ty has been a large­ly Rea­gan­ite par­ty: deeply anti-tax, skep­ti­cal of new reg­u­la­tions, and strong­ly backed by social con­ser­v­a­tives. As with Rea­gan him­self, how­ev­er, these Repub­li­cans have often been will­ing to make deals as need­ed, as long as doing so did not force them to fun­da­men­tal­ly com­pro­mise their core beliefs. You could talk to these peo­ple. Let’s not roman­ti­cize them: it was not a friend­ly or rea­son­able party.

But it was a group that could exist as a minor­i­ty par­ty in a blue state with­out seek­ing to destroy every­thing in its path in their pur­suit of power.

Out­side of Wash­ing­ton State, this kind of Repub­li­can Par­ty had already been replaced by the mod­ern unyield­ing Repub­li­can Par­ty — a par­ty far more extreme and even less inter­est­ed in compromise.

Where­as Pres­i­dent Rea­gan and Repub­li­cans of his era were will­ing to cut deals as need­ed, the 2010s Repub­li­can Par­ty sees no need to do so.

They believe — cor­rect­ly, as it has turned out — that the way to get their pol­i­cy goals imple­ment­ed is to destroy the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, seize all the levers of gov­ern­ment, and just do it them­selves. Why cut a deal now when refus­ing to deal will pro­duce big wins at the next elec­tion and elim­i­nate the opposition?

When this mod­ern Repub­li­can Par­ty con­trols only part of gov­ern­ment — the sit­u­a­tion we see now in Wash­ing­ton State — their sole inter­est is to under­mine Democ­rats in order to win total pow­er on their own.

This was the play­book that con­gres­sion­al Repub­li­cans used to under­mine Democ­rats, espe­cial­ly Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma, after the 2008 election.

Pres­i­dent Oba­ma believed that he was still deal­ing with a Rea­gan­ite par­ty, a par­ty with which you could cut a deal.

As he learned the hard way, the mod­ern Repub­li­can Par­ty is not inter­est­ed in cut­ting deals with Democ­rats. They opposed Oba­ma from day one, ral­ly­ing their base to resist every sin­gle Demo­c­ra­t­ic pro­pos­al — even those, like the Patient Pro­tec­tion and Afford­able Care Act, that had been invent­ed by Repub­li­cans them­selves. They have become much more extreme than any­thing we see in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Party.

This no-holds-barred oppo­si­tion crip­pled the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. The results have been ruinous for Amer­i­ca. But they have been an unques­tion­able suc­cess for Repub­li­cans. They reversed the results of both the 2006 and 2008 elec­tions by seiz­ing not only the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives in 2010, but win­ning a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of state leg­is­la­tures and gov­er­nor’s offices.

Where those gains gave Repub­li­cans total con­trol, as in Wis­con­sin or North Car­oli­na, they unleashed a rad­i­cal, extrem­ist agen­da that rolls back the polit­i­cal and pol­i­cy gains of the 20th cen­tu­ry. In every sin­gle state where this far-right agen­da was imple­ment­ed — with Penn­syl­va­nia being the sole excep­tion — vot­ers returned those same extrem­ists to pow­er in the 2014 midterms.

That 2014 elec­tion, in fact, saw Repub­li­cans make even greater gains. Democ­rats had what was one of their most cat­a­stroph­ic elec­tions in decades, los­ing not only the U.S. Sen­ate, but also los­ing gov­er­nor­ships and state leg­isla­tive hous­es in deep blue states like Illi­nois, Min­neso­ta, Mass­a­chu­setts, and Maryland.

In Wash­ing­ton State, Repub­li­cans tight­ened their grip on the state Sen­ate and came with­in just a few seats of tak­ing the state House.

Judg­ing by the play­book they’ve used in oth­er states, and in Con­gress, we can expect that the next steps here in Wash­ing­ton State will be for the Repub­li­cans to focus on under­min­ing remain­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic pow­er, grind­ing gov­ern­ment to a halt and deny­ing Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee and House Democ­rats vic­to­ries in order to make them look inef­fec­tive ahead of the cru­cial 2016 election.

Which brings us to the Sen­ate trans­porta­tion plan.

It is not intend­ed to be a viable trans­porta­tion pack­age, though Repub­li­cans will sure­ly be able to live with it were it to pass. It is real­ly a trap, a “plan” whose pri­ma­ry pur­pose is actu­al­ly to divide and then con­quer Democ­rats, turn­ing the blue coali­tion against itself ahead of the 2016 election.

This should be obvi­ous from even a cur­so­ry glance at the pro­pos­al. It does not offer Sound Tran­sit enough rev­enue to both fin­ish the spine from Everett to Taco­ma and build rail to a new Seat­tle neigh­bor­hood, whether it’s Bal­lard or West Seat­tle. Rather than unite city and sub­urb in sup­port of rail, it divides them.

The plan divides urban and sub­ur­ban Democ­rats in oth­er ways, offer­ing funds for sub­ur­ban megapro­jects but refus­ing to add any more mon­ey for the State Route 99 deep bore tun­nel. It divides envi­ron­men­tal­ists, urban­ists, and unions by includ­ing poi­son pills that would divert rev­enue from sus­tain­able trans­porta­tion to high­way projects if Gov­er­nor Inslee were to adopt a low pol­lu­tion fuel stan­dard, as well as under­min­ing pre­vail­ing wage rules and oth­er work­er protections.

The rev­enue sources are them­selves designed to under­mine Democ­rats. Sound Tran­sit would have to get vot­ers to approve three dif­fer­ent rev­enue sources in order to build their new projects. Rather than charg­ing pol­luters, as Gov­er­nor Inslee has pro­posed, the Sen­ate plan would raise the gas tax to pay for projects.

That may seem like a wel­come change from the Rea­gan­ite era anti-tax ide­ol­o­gy of Wash­ing­ton Repub­li­cans. But in real­i­ty it’s part of a nation­al effort to hurt the poor and the mid­dle class — as well as weak­en Democrats.

This week, The New York Times exam­ined how Repub­li­cans in states across Amer­i­ca are rais­ing tax­es on the poor while cut­ting them for the rich.

This is the same game Wash­ing­ton Repub­li­cans are play­ing, hav­ing vowed to block any new tax­es — like a cap­i­tal gains tax on the rich — but instead propos­ing to raise gas tax­es, which are borne more heav­i­ly by the poor.

The gas tax pro­pos­al is not just regres­sive — it’s also craft­ed to hurt Democ­rats. In 2014 Repub­li­cans picked up sev­er­al blue state gov­er­nor­ships by run­ning against gas tax increas­es, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Maryland.

Repub­li­cans also used the gas tax as an issue in their suc­cess­ful bids to pick off four Demo­c­ra­t­ic mem­bers of the Wash­ing­ton State House.

Repub­li­cans are there­fore lay­ing a trap for Democ­rats, par­tic­u­lar­ly Gov­er­nor Inslee, by propos­ing a gas tax increase. As we saw in Cal­i­for­nia in the late 2000s, Repub­li­cans will force Democ­rats to make con­ces­sion after con­ces­sion in order to agree to pro­vide the votes to pass a package.

But when it comes time to vote, Repub­li­cans will only offer the absolute min­i­mum num­ber of votes nec­es­sary to pass a plan — forc­ing all Democ­rats to vote yes, while most Repub­li­cans vote no and then attack the plan on the cam­paign trail.

Observers will note that State Sen­a­tor Andy Hill, a pos­si­ble can­di­date for gov­er­nor in 2016, was nowhere to be found at the Sen­ate press con­fer­ence last week announc­ing the trans­porta­tion package.

Many Democ­rats under­stand­ably pine for the good old days, when Repub­li­cans were ide­o­log­i­cal but still some­what rea­son­able — peo­ple whom you may not have agreed with, but with whom you could still sit down and ham­mer out a deal.

But those days are gone, and they are not com­ing back, at least not any­time soon. Democ­rats need to learn that the way to get good poli­cies enact­ed, and to win elec­tions, is to accept that mod­ern gov­er­nance is defined by con­stant par­ti­san war­fare — and then com­mit to win­ning that war.

Democ­rats and their coali­tion mem­bers should unite in oppo­si­tion to the pro­posed trans­porta­tion plan, attack its weak­ness­es, and dri­ve down pub­lic sup­port for it. Sev­er­al Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tors, led by Prami­la Jaya­pal and Kevin Ranker, seem to under­stand this, and came out in oppo­si­tion to the Repub­li­can plan.

House Democ­rats should get to work craft­ing a trans­porta­tion plan that meets the needs of their mem­bers and the state’s pro­gres­sive coali­tion, as well as appeal­ing to vot­ers in swing dis­tricts. Whether or not Sen­ate Repub­li­cans would sup­port such a plan should be a dis­tant con­cern — since the only way to get Sen­ate Repub­li­cans to vote for it is to scare them into doing so.

Edu­ca­tion, the oth­er big bat­tle­field of the 2015 ses­sion, will play out the same way. Repub­li­cans will offer a plan that under­mines and divides the Demo­c­ra­t­ic coali­tion, with an eye toward defeat­ing Democ­rats in 2016.

Democ­rats will need to respond with a plan that funds their McCleary and small­er class size oblig­a­tions with­out giv­ing in to Repub­li­can poi­son pills.

For exam­ple, rather than try to avoid the vot­er man­date in I‑1351 to shrink class sizes, Democ­rats should whole­heart­ed­ly embrace it, pro­pose a pro­gres­sive way of pay­ing for it, and ham­mer Repub­li­cans for oppos­ing small­er class sizes when they inevitably reject the fund­ing source.

Too many Democ­rats across the coun­try have been slow to learn the lessons of this new Repub­li­can Par­ty. The best way to think about them is the way Kyle Reese described the cyborg from the future in 1984’s The Terminator:

Lis­ten, and under­stand. That ter­mi­na­tor is out there. It can’t be bar­gained with. It can’t be rea­soned with. It does­n’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolute­ly will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

That is how the mod­ern Repub­li­can Par­ty thinks of Democrats.

The only response, as dis­taste­ful as it may be for some, is for Democ­rats to do all they can to keep Repub­li­cans out of pow­er… and gov­ern the state them­selves, like rea­son­able, sen­si­ble adults. Wash­ing­ton State Democ­rats should show the rest of the nation how it can be done. The 2015 ses­sion is the moment for Democ­rats to adapt to the new real­i­ty — and then thrive in it.

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