A wealthy donor to the Washington State Republican Party has begun funneling serious money into a signature drive that aims to qualify a slew of six right wing initiatives to the 2024 Washington State Legislature, reports filed this week with the Public Disclosure Commission by his political committee show.
Brian Heywood, who lives just outside of NPI’s hometown of Redmond on a property known as Willowcrest Stables, is one of the richer men in Washington, and by his own admission, he really, really doesn’t like paying taxes.
His net worth is estimated to be between $10 and $25 million, so he’s not a billionaire by any stretch, but he’s certainly rich enough to be among those who has to pay Washington State’s new capital gains tax on the wealthy.
Heywood is the co-chief executive of Taiyo Pacific Partners and has extensive experience working abroad in Asia, including for companies such as JD Power and Citibank. His corporate biography notes that he is fluent in Japanese and has a deep understanding of Japanese corporate procedures.
In the last few years, Heywood’s interest in right wing politics has deepened considerably. An advanced search of the Public Disclosure Commission’s database indicates that Heywood has given a total of $2,438,266.35 ($2.4 million!) to right wing candidates and causes since 2010, with over 95% of the contributions having been received between 2019 and the present.
About half of that sum — $1,228,626.21 — has gone to a political committee Heywood controls that is focused on getting the right wing back in the initiatives business. Heywood calls his committee Let’s Go Washington, but a more accurate name would be Let’s Regress, Washington! since its primary goal is to weaken Washington’s common wealth by giving the rich and oil companies big tax breaks.
Let’s Go Washington tried to qualify a grand total of eleven initiatives (yes, eleven!) to the 2023 Washington State Legislature last year, but they all flopped. Heywood and his associates were unable to collect enough signatures to even attempt a turn-in for one of the eleven measures.
But they’re still very much enamored with the fantasy of qualifying a whole slew of bad right wing ideas to either the Legislature or the ballot at the same time.
So, they’re trying again. And this time, instead of attempting to rely primarily on volunteers (which anyone with deep expertise working on ballot measures could have told them wasn’t going to work), they’re running a paid signature drive. Heywood and fellow Republican Sharon Hanek even formed their own company to employ signature gatherers earlier this year — TDM Strategies.
The plan, judging by the job posting for petitioners published by TDM Strategies, was to pay crews of signature gatherers by the hour rather than by the signature, as is the typical industry practice. Evidently, Heywood and his operatives were hoping to control costs and run a more efficient signature drive by employing petitioners in house and offering benefits along with hourly wages.
But they seem to have concluded this approach is just not going to get them there, judging by the contents of their August C4 report.
(The C4 is the form where committees’ finances are summarized, including contributions received, expenditures made, and obligations incurred.)
That report shows on August 29th, Heywood gave $400,000 to a longtime shady player in Washington’s signature gathering industry: Brent Johnson, a convicted forger. Johnson runs Your Choice Petitions, LLC out of Spokane, and has worked for Roy Ruffino and Eddie Agazarm’s “Citizen Solutions” in the past.
The report also shows that in addition to Heywood’s in-kind donation, the committee has incurred an obligation of $3.6 million to Your Choice Petitions for signature gathering services. That’s a total of four million dollars. We haven’t seen an outlay for petitioning that large in Washington for many, many years.
As of the end of August, the committee’s receipts for 2023 now total $1,281,986.71, with expenditures adding up to $5,010,327.52.
Here’s a table showing all of Heywood’s recent in-kind contributions:
The last time any right wing initiatives were on the ballot was four years ago, when Tim Eyman allegedly drained much of his retirement account to get I‑976 on the ballot. I‑976 survived a well-funded opposition campaign but never went into effect due to being struck down as unconstitutional in its entirety.
Eyman’s initiative factory is defunct, but he’s happily settled into a new role as a pitchman and petitioner for the Let’s Regress, Washington! effort. (Eyman must always have something to sell, and if he can’t sell his own measures, he’ll sell somebody else’s.) Each of the initiatives that Let’s Regress, Washington! hopes to qualify to the 2024 Washington State Legislature is sponsored by State Representative and newly elected State Republican Party Chair Jim Walsh.
These six measures and the aims of each are as follows:
- I‑2109: Repeal the capital gains tax on the wealthy
- I‑2117: Repeal the state’s cap and invest system
- I‑2111: Prohibit the levying of any income taxes
- I‑2124: Sabotage the state’s new long term care system
- I‑2113: Allow dangerous police pursuits to resume
- I‑2081: Implement a “parental notification” scheme for school curricula
The initiatives also have the support of Dann Mead Smith’s Project 42 network.
(At a media event Project 42 and the national right wing group Americans For Prosperity organized this week in Kent to bash the Climate Commitment Act, people were being given the opportunity to sign petitions for I‑2117.)
Right wing operative Glen Morgan, who has spent years trying to weaponize Washington’s public disclosure laws against Democratic candidates and organizations, is also a cog in Heywood’s growing political machine. On YouTube, you can find a series of videos where Morgan interviews Heywood about the initiatives he’s hoping to get qualified and his political aspirations.
To get all six measures qualified, Heywood’s committee will need to gather around 2.4 million signatures by the end of the year — around 400,000 for each measure.
If they’re successful, all six initiatives would be placed before the Democratic-controlled Washington State House and Washington State Senate in January.
The Legislature would have three options as to what to do with each measure:
- Pass into law (but the chances of that happening are basically nil)
- Forward to the voters in November by taking no action
- Forward to voters along with an alternative — a competing proposal
By opening his wallet to ramp up the signature drive for this initiative slate, Heywood is demonstrating he’s serious about qualifying these six initiatives.
He has stated to supporters that he considers last year’s effort to have been a test run. This year’s do-over is meant to be the real thing.
It’s probably going to take more than $4 million to reel in the 2.4 million signatures the six initiatives collectively need. But having committed a significant sum thus far already, we imagine Heywood will be writing more checks in the weeks ahead. And perhaps he’ll recruit other wealthy Republicans to do likewise.
Heywood has semi-publicly bragged that he has commissioned polling for the six initiatives in King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Spokane counties (the four largest in Washington) that found support for each initiative between sixty and ninety percent. More interestingly, he has claimed that his poll samples did not skew Republican (as many surveys released publicly by right wing pollsters do), but instead properly represent the number of Democratic voters in the electorate.
In polling, however, a representative sample isn’t enough to yield sound, credible data. The questions must also be neutrally worded — it isn’t possible to find out what people really think if they are told what to think first. We know from our own research that our arguments in support of the policies Heywood wants to repeal resonate consistently with majorities of likely voters in Washington.
It would be interesting to see what questions Heywood’s group asked, and how or even whether they effectively presented progressive arguments to respondents of their survey, but the likelihood of them showing us their work seems very low.
To veterans of past ballot measure campaigns who know what it takes to qualify an initiative, Heywood’s gambit might come across as absurd. Running just one initiative, particularly in a presidential cycle like 2024, is a tough and complex endeavor; trying to do that six times over is beyond next level difficult. This is an unprecedented effort, certainly at least in modern political times.
But Heywood has this going for him: Republican precinct committee officers and right wing voters need an outlet… something to devote their energy to that they can believe in. The party is on the outs in so many ways: it hasn’t won a gubernatorial contest since 1980, a presidential vote since 1984, or a U.S. Senate election since 1994. Democrats control every statewide executive office and have firm majorities in both chambers of the Legislature. Last year’s supposed red wave was a total bust and turned out to be another blue wave instead.
With the Republican brand in Washington in awful shape, there’s no prospect of electing a Republican governor or legislature in 2024, 2026, 2028, or any cycle over the horizon. And recent right wing legal challenges have been unsuccessful in gutting the big progressive accomplishments that Republicans intensely dislike.
That leaves the initiative process.
Tim Eyman demonstrated for more than a decade how the people’s initiative power could be abused and manipulated to force votes on bad ideas intended to destroy the state’s essential public services and wreck government.
Thankfully, after many years of inaction, the Legislature has begun to implement safeguards to prevent future initiative sponsors from deceptively concealing the consequences of their measures. Several of Heywood and Walsh’s initiatives seek to partially defund Washington’s treasury, and if they qualify for the ballot, their ballot titles will be extended to include a fiscal impact disclosure required by a law that NPI championed. That means voters will be informed, before they fill in an oval, of the loss of revenue that a Yes vote would entail.
Walsh is well aware of this fiscal impact disclosure requirement, which our research showed is wildly popular with Washington voters. Amusingly, Walsh tried to amend our bill repealing Tim Eyman’s push polls to get rid of the requirement back in April. The House nixed his amendment. The disclosure requirement stayed, while Eyman’s push polls went away for good, in another win for voters.
Our team believes that even if Heywood gets all six of his measures qualified, they can be defeated… yes, each and every one of them.
We are confident it can be done because it has been done, right here in the PNW.
NPI, which has a regional focus rather than a single-state one, has seen a threat like this before… down in Oregon. The year was 2008, and Bill Sizemore — Tim Eyman’s Oregon equivalent — was able to qualify five right wing initiatives to the statewide ballot then with the help of wealthy benefactor Loren Parks.
Despite facing a gauntlet of bad ballot measures, we in the progressive movement were able to rise to the occasion that year in Oregon. We built strong no campaigns and invested in GOTV and voter education. We knew progressive turnout would be strong in the presidential election and were prepared.
We took full advantage of the more favorable electoral environment, and dispatched Sizemore, defeating all five of his measures. Yes — all five!
It was a great moment in Oregon political history.
Should Heywood qualify his slew of schemes, progressives in Washington can and must strive for the same outcome: the defeat of the whole bad batch. Washington has made a lot of progress these past few years and we simply can’t afford to go backwards. By building an effective opposition campaign, we can maximize our chances of protecting Washington from the forces of greed.
We maintain a project devoted to the task of dealing with these kinds of threats whenever they emerge: Permanent Defense. It is so named because eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, as Wendell Phillips once said.
There will always be threats to our Constitution, our common wealth, and our future. It’s imperative that progressives be able to respond to them quickly, energetically, and capably. We have over two decades of experience combating right wing initiatives, and we’ll put it all to work to ensure that Brian Heywood and Let’s Regress, Washington! are unsuccessful in their endeavors.