NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

The new, extreme Republican Party has arrived in Washington State

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Out­side of Wash­ing­ton State, this kind of Repub­li­can Par­ty had already been replaced by the mod­ern unyield­ing Repub­li­can Par­ty — a par­ty far more extreme and even less inter­est­ed in com­pro­mise.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

  1. # by B. Michael Appia :: February 16th, 2015 at 10:16 AM