Brian Heywood of Let's Go Washington
Brian Heywood of Let's Go Washington (Video still)

A right wing group formed and pri­mar­i­ly fund­ed by Repub­li­can donor Bri­an K. Hey­wood of Red­mond has admit­ted defeat in its efforts to qual­i­fy a batch of eleven right wing ini­tia­tives to the 2023 Wash­ing­ton State Legislature.

Despite spend­ing $363,846.10 — most­ly on adver­tis­ing, print­ing and tex­ting — the group was unable to suc­cess­ful­ly com­plete a sig­na­ture dri­ve for any of its mea­sures, which var­i­ous­ly pro­posed slash­ing fund­ing for pub­lic ser­vices, rolling back pop­u­lar police reform laws, repeal­ing the state’s new cap­i­tal gains tax on the wealthy, ter­mi­nat­ing Wash­ing­ton’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Nation­al Pop­u­lar Vote Com­pact, and requir­ing pri­vate com­pa­nies to over­see some bal­lot tabulations.

As the clock ran out, Hey­wood and his asso­ciates spoke of qual­i­fy­ing at at least one mea­sure by the Decem­ber 30th dead­line, but could not fin­ish the task of gath­er­ing 425,000 sig­na­tures for even their favorite of the eleven schemes.

In a pub­licly post­ed mes­sage, Hey­wood com­plained that the ini­tia­tive process in Wash­ing­ton is “dom­i­nat­ed by deep-pock­et­ed spe­cial inter­ests, increas­ing­ly expen­sive con­sul­tants, and paid sig­na­ture gatherers.”

He added:

“Let’s Go Wash­ing­ton was found­ed on the idea that build­ing a grass­roots vol­un­teer net­work and ween­ing the process from an over-reliance on con­sul­tants is a worth­while pur­suit. How­ev­er, this takes time — more than we first thought.”

Hey­wood isn’t wrong that ini­tia­tives have become a big busi­ness, but in truth, his group was­n’t stymied by “spe­cial inter­ests” or “expen­sive con­sul­tants” or the Leg­is­la­ture’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic majori­ties. It fell short prin­ci­pal­ly because — from what our team has been able to ascer­tain — the group did­n’t know what it was doing.

Sim­ply put, its ambi­tions far exceed­ed its logis­ti­cal capac­i­ty, as evi­denced by its  deci­sion to try to run eleven ini­tia­tives simultaneously.

Hav­ing failed to qual­i­fy any of them, Hey­wood pro­ceed­ed to award him­self and his group the equiv­a­lent of a par­tic­i­pa­tion tro­phy, crow­ing: “We gath­ered more sig­na­tures than any oth­er effort in our nation.”

But not enough to pass Go and col­lect $200.

Qual­i­fy­ing an ini­tia­tive to the bal­lot with most­ly vol­un­teers is pos­si­ble, and has been done as recent­ly as 2015, when WAmend — chaired by NPI Pres­i­dent Diane Jones and staffed by a team includ­ing NPI Advi­so­ry Coun­cilmem­ber Steve Zemke — suc­cess­ful­ly gath­ered enough sig­na­tures to qual­i­fy I‑735 to the Legislature.

I‑735 sub­se­quent­ly appeared on the Wash­ing­ton State bal­lot and was approved by over 62% of vot­ers. Its find­ings are cod­i­fied as RCW 29A.05.030.

Thanks to I‑735, Wash­ing­ton law now declares that the peo­ple of the Ever­green State do not approve of Supreme Court prece­dents sanc­tion­ing the legal fic­tions that cor­po­ra­tions are peo­ple and mon­ey is speech.

I‑735 suc­ceed­ed because it was backed by a team who had a grasp of the logis­tics need­ed to exe­cute a sig­na­ture dri­ve successfully.

Since I‑735 made it, the sig­na­ture require­ment has gone up (twice, ris­ing with the lev­el of guber­na­to­r­i­al elec­tion turnout as required by the Wash­ing­ton State Con­sti­tu­tion), paid peti­tion­er labor has become more expen­sive, and the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic has made sig­na­ture gath­er­ing more dif­fi­cult. No ini­tia­tives have appeared on the statewide bal­lot for three con­sec­u­tive years as a consequence.

How­ev­er, the right wing did qual­i­fy one ref­er­en­dum, in 2020, which attempt­ed to get rid of a com­pre­hen­sive sex­u­al health edu­ca­tion law passed by the Leg­is­la­ture. Vot­ers decid­ed to keep the law, to the aston­ish­ment of the state’s right wing, which expect­ed a dif­fer­ent out­come and cried foul after being sound­ly beaten.

That cam­paign sym­bol­ized the grow­ing dis­con­nect between the vot­ers of Wash­ing­ton and the state’s right wing polit­i­cal forces. They inhab­it their own bub­ble or echo cham­ber and they seem not to under­stand or appre­ci­ate that their views are not wide­ly pop­u­lar. Con­sid­er this bit from Hey­wood’s letter:

Washington’s ini­tia­tive sys­tem was designed as a “safe­ty valve” for when the leg­is­la­ture pass­es laws opposed by the major­i­ty of vot­ers. Late­ly, the leg­is­la­ture has shown itself will­ing to ignore the peo­ple — repeatedly. 

Empha­sis is mine.

It’s amus­ing that Hey­wood is renew­ing his claim that the Leg­is­la­ture’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic majori­ties are total­ly out of touch mere­ly a few weeks after vot­ers returned every sin­gle Demo­c­ra­t­ic leg­isla­tive incum­bent who sought reelec­tion to Olympia and even expand­ed the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty’s majori­ties in both the House and Senate.

Wash­ing­to­ni­ans seem sat­is­fied with the work of their Demo­c­ra­t­ic Leg­is­la­ture and total­ly unin­ter­est­ed in the prospect of putting Repub­li­cans in charge: they sent even more Democ­rats to the state­house in an elec­tion that Repub­li­cans had expect­ed for a long time to be extreme­ly dom­i­nant in.

It’s worth remem­ber­ing that at the time Hey­wood launched Let’s Go Wash­ing­ton, Repub­li­cans were open­ly fan­ta­siz­ing about hav­ing con­trol of the Legislature.

That’s part­ly what spurred the group to attempt so many ini­tia­tives at once: they want­ed the abil­i­ty to send what they thought would be a House run by J.T. Wilcox and a Sen­ate run by John Braun a set of pro­pos­als that could be adopt­ed into law with­out the need for a guber­na­to­r­i­al sig­na­ture, know­ing that Jay Inslee would hap­pi­ly wield his veto pen against their destruc­tive schemes.

In August, how­ev­er, Democ­rats romped in the Top Two elec­tion and the air instant­ly went out of the right wing’s bal­loon. Wilcox, Braun, and Repub­li­can Par­ty Chair Caleb Heim­lich con­ced­ed pri­vate­ly and lat­er pub­licly that Repub­li­cans stood no chance of flip­ping either cham­ber. Democ­rats con­tin­ued their leg­isla­tive elec­toral dom­i­nance in Novem­ber, leav­ing Repub­li­cans shak­ing their heads.

At NPI, we’re real­ly inter­est­ed in what peo­ple think about the work of our elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives and the issues of the day, so we do a lot of research, and we pub­lish new poll find­ings reg­u­lar­ly here on the Cas­ca­dia Advocate.

If Repub­li­cans like Bri­an Hey­wood paid any atten­tion to our research, they’d know that they are the ones who are ignor­ing the peo­ple and push­ing unpop­u­lar ideas. But they seem well and tru­ly ensconced in their echo cham­ber, unwill­ing to con­sid­er that pro­gres­sives actu­al­ly have a bet­ter grasp of pub­lic opinion.

And so it goes.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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