Right wing millionaire Brian Heywood speaking at a signature turn-in event
Brian Heywood addresses operatives and supporters at a signature turn-in event in Tumwater, Washington, on Thursday, December 28th, 2023 (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

In Novem­ber of 2017, vot­ers in Wash­ing­ton’s 45th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict were tasked with the respon­si­bil­i­ty of not only select­ing a new state sen­a­tor to com­plete the term of the late Repub­li­can Andy Hill, who had trag­i­cal­ly lost a bat­tle with can­cer the year before, but also decid­ing whether a half-decade long era of divid­ed gov­ern­ment in the state­house should con­tin­ue or be brought to a swift end.

By a deci­sive mar­gin, they opt­ed to dis­man­tle the Wash­ing­ton State Sen­ate’s Repub­li­can major­i­ty and put Democ­rats in charge, embrac­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date Man­ka Dhin­gra’s plat­form of strength­en­ing com­mu­ni­ties. (Dhin­gra has since been reelect­ed twice and is cur­rent­ly run­ning for Attor­ney Gen­er­al; she also serves on the board of the North­west Pro­gres­sive Foundation.)

Thus began a peri­od of Demo­c­ra­t­ic dom­i­nance in the Leg­is­la­ture that has con­tin­ued to the present day. Wash­ing­ton’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic tri­fec­ta has now been gov­ern­ing for longer than the chaot­ic State Sen­ate Repub­li­can major­i­ty that pre­ced­ed it — a major­i­ty cre­at­ed by Rod­ney Tom and Tim Shel­don’s defec­tions just pri­or to Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee’s first inau­gu­ra­tion in ear­ly 2013.

Repub­li­cans have had three chances to try to reclaim leg­isla­tive majori­ties since that con­se­quen­tial 2017 spe­cial elec­tion, but each time, they have either lost ground or failed to make up lost ground. Democ­rats today have a twen­ty-nine mem­ber Sen­ate major­i­ty and a fifty-eight mem­ber House major­i­ty (twen­ty-five seats are need­ed for Sen­ate con­trol and fifty seats for House control).

Democ­rats have used their majori­ties to pass a ground­break­ing cli­mate action and invest­ment law (the Cli­mate Com­mit­ment Act), levy a cap­i­tal gains tax on the wealthy to help the state meet its para­mount duty to amply pro­vide for the edu­ca­tion of Wash­ing­ton’s youth, cre­ate the Wash­ing­ton Cares (WA Cares) Fund to improve access to long-term care, improve K‑12 school cur­ricu­lum by requir­ing age-appro­pri­ate com­pre­hen­sive sex­u­al health and con­sent edu­ca­tion, and bol­ster pub­lic safe­ty by adopt­ing new safe­guards against police misconduct.

Repub­li­cans con­tend these poli­cies are unpop­u­lar and hurt­ing Wash­ing­to­ni­ans, even though cred­i­ble pub­lic opin­ion research shows vot­ers like them.

Con­vinced that Democ­rats have over­reached, Repub­li­cans have decid­ed to make a big bet on putting a slate of ini­tia­tives before the 2024 Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture — all of which they expect to be for­ward­ed to vot­ers — that would repeal, roll back, or sab­o­tage the poli­cies list­ed above. Their ini­tia­tive gam­bit is almost exclu­sive­ly fund­ed by a sin­gle indi­vid­ual — right wing mil­lion­aire Bri­an Hey­wood, who has become a key play­er in local Repub­li­can politics.

Hey­wood and State Repub­li­can Par­ty Chair Jim Walsh — the spon­sor of each of the slate of six ini­tia­tives — call their effort “Let’s Go Washington.”

Of the $6,698,006.98 Let’s Go Wash­ing­ton has raised this year, $1,737,412.21 of the cash has come from Hey­wood, and he has also loaned the com­mit­tee $4,150,000. He is the source of near­ly nine­ty cents out of every dol­lar the com­mit­tee has tak­en in, and con­se­quent­ly, his name is required by state law to be list­ed as part of Let’s Go Wash­ing­ton’s full legal name. You can see this by open­ing the C1-PC. It reads: Let’s Go Wash­ing­ton (Spon­sored by Bri­an Hey­wood).

While many wealthy donors are con­tent to let oth­er peo­ple speak for them, Hey­wood has embraced the lime­light and wel­comed the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be a pitch­man. On each of the days that his crew of oper­a­tives has shown up in Tumwa­ter to turn in sig­na­tures, Hey­wood has been there with them, bran­dish­ing the mic and tak­ing a vic­to­ry lap along­side WSRP Chair­man Jim Walsh.

Hav­ing invest­ed so much mon­ey into this ini­tia­tive gam­bit, Hey­wood has become extreme­ly inter­est­ed in any­thing and every­thing that is writ­ten or said about it, includ­ing our report­ing and analy­sis here on The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate.

On Thurs­day, fol­low­ing his remarks in favor of Ini­tia­tive 2124 — that’s the mea­sure that would sab­o­tage the WA Cares Fund — Hey­wood walked over to meet me, shake my hand, and chat about his moti­va­tions for fund­ing these ini­tia­tives. He insists that he’s not doing this out of self-interest.

“I’m not doing this for me. I’m doing this because it hurts — and all of these oth­er tax­es — hurt peo­ple,” he com­ment­ed on Thurs­day in front of his crew.

In truth, tax­es help people.

The right wing view of tax­es is that they are puni­tive — a bad thing to be dis­man­tled. In real­i­ty, tax­es are a form of invest­ment, by the peo­ple and for the peo­ple. When we pay tax­es, we’re pool­ing our resources to take care of each oth­er, fund­ing ser­vices we oth­er­wise would­n’t be able to afford — like libraries, parks, pools, schools, roads, fer­ries, tran­sit, police and fire pro­tec­tion, or healthcare.

Hey­wood has made a lot of mon­ey in the busi­ness world, so he under­stands what can be accom­plished through smart and wise invest­ing. But he does­n’t see the Cli­mate Com­mit­ment Act, or the WA Cares Fund, or our cap­i­tal gains tax on the wealthy as tools for invest­ing in a bet­ter Wash­ing­ton. Nor is he a fan of the work the Leg­is­la­ture has done to rein in police mis­con­duct and empow­er youth.

While Hey­wood can come across as brash and arro­gant, he is aware that he and Walsh are tak­ing a risk by forc­ing statewide votes on all of the afore­men­tioned poli­cies that they don’t like. He’s spent a lot of mon­ey to give vot­ers the chance to approve or reject the Demo­c­ra­t­ic-run Leg­is­la­ture’s work.

But what hap­pens if vot­ers don’t vote the way he and Walsh want?

Inter­est­ing­ly, Hey­wood has pub­licly acknowl­edged that defeat is a possibility.

“I’m putting this out there for a vote,” he said in com­ments noticed by The Seat­tle Times. “Let’s give every­body a vote on these, and if they don’t pass, if I’m wrong and peo­ple don’t sup­port these ideas, then the peo­ple have spoken.”

Haven’t the peo­ple already spo­ken by repeat­ed­ly elect­ing Democ­rats to gov­ern Wash­ing­ton, includ­ing in last year’s midterms, which were sup­posed to be a red wave that turned into anoth­er blue wave instead? It’s worth remem­ber­ing the laws Hey­wood is tar­get­ing for repeal were most­ly passed in 2021 and that Repub­li­cans had decried those laws through­out 2022. Democ­rats nev­er­the­less emerged from the midterms with even big­ger majori­ties than they had before.

Walsh and Hey­wood might retort that peo­ple vot­ed for Democ­rats in spite of their poli­cies, and now they’re get­ting the oppor­tu­ni­ty to vote direct­ly on those policies.

But the old adage be care­ful what you wish for is applic­a­ble here.

Hey­wood has already spent a for­tune to set up a high stakes bat­tle over key aspects of Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee’s lega­cy, and he will prob­a­bly spend even more to pitch the mea­sures in 2024, but vot­ers are under no oblig­a­tion to approve his and Wal­sh’s slate of ini­tia­tives. They can say no. And if they do, Wash­ing­ton State Repub­li­cans will have end­ed up devot­ing a huge amount of mon­ey and resources to prov­ing that pro­gres­sive ideas are in fact pop­u­lar with Washingtonians.

There have been many times in the past when right wing groups have forced statewide votes on mea­sures to repeal laws passed by Demo­c­ra­t­ic majori­ties and dis­cov­ered, to their dis­may, that they’d bad­ly mis­read pub­lic opinion.

Sev­er­al exam­ples come to mind.

On the fis­cal front, in the mid-2000s (which were NPI’s ear­ly years), sev­er­al attempts were made by right wing activists and fun­ders, work­ing inde­pen­dent­ly from Tim Eyman, to roll back tax mea­sures passed by the Legislature.

One of those was in 2005, when right wing talk show hosts John Carl­son and Kir­by Wilbur spear­head­ed an effort to roll back a major trans­porta­tion pack­age enact­ed by the Leg­is­la­ture. No New Gas Tax was their cam­paign mantra.

Oppo­nents, includ­ing the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute, formed a broad and diverse coali­tion called Keep Wash­ing­ton Rolling to defend the package.

To the aston­ish­ment of Carl­son and Wilbur, vot­ers sided with the coali­tion and reject­ed Ini­tia­tive 912, thus keep­ing the gas tax increas­es in place.

The fol­low­ing year, the right wing tried again to repeal anoth­er rev­enue source, this time tar­get­ing the estate tax, which the Leg­is­la­ture and Gov­er­nor Chris Gre­goire had res­ur­rect­ed after a court rul­ing that went against the state.

Once again, a strong and effec­tive oppo­si­tion cam­paign was devel­oped, and the vot­ers had their say. Ini­tia­tive 920 went down to defeat and the estate tax, a rare tax on wealth in Wash­ing­ton State, remained in place and on the books.

Sim­i­lar fates have befall­en right wing ref­er­en­da on social issues.

For exam­ple, in 2009, the right wing tried to over­turn Wash­ing­ton’s civ­il unions law. Vot­ers sided with the Leg­is­la­ture and upheld it.

Then, in 2012, the right wing tried to over­turn the state’s mar­riage equal­i­ty law. But, as before, vot­ers sided with the Leg­is­la­ture and upheld it.

In 2020, the right wing mount­ed a ref­er­en­dum to over­turn the state’s com­pre­hen­sive sex­u­al health edu­ca­tion law. NPI’s polling repeat­ed­ly found that the law was pop­u­lar — I wrote sev­er­al posts here on The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate pre­sent­ing our research — yet right wing fig­ures were utter­ly con­vinced of a victory.

When their ref­er­en­dum com­plete­ly flopped and vot­ers again deci­sive­ly sided with the Leg­is­la­ture, many were in dis­be­lief, with some activists scream­ing that vot­er fraud must have tak­en place. (For the record, there was no fraud.)

Hey­wood was a res­i­dent of Cal­i­for­nia dur­ing many of the bal­lot mea­sure fights I just men­tioned, so he may not be aware of, or appre­ci­ate, this elec­toral history.

Or per­haps he is aware of it and sim­ply thinks that 2024 will be different.

I asked Hey­wood on Thurs­day if he’d be will­ing to pub­licly share the research that he com­mis­sioned in sup­port of his slate of ini­tia­tives, which he has ref­er­enced at sev­er­al junc­tures through­out the year in an effort to per­suade peo­ple to get on board and col­lect sig­na­tures. How­ev­er, as I expect­ed, he declined.

It’s his research that he paid for, so he’s not oblig­ed to pub­lish it, but if he keeps talk­ing about it with­out shar­ing it, he can expect skep­ti­cal reac­tions. If he changes his mind down the road, our team will be hap­py to look at his data.

Our side has been exam­in­ing how vot­ers per­ceive Hey­wood and Wal­sh’s ini­tia­tives, and as The Wash­ing­ton State Stan­dard­’s Jer­ry Corn­field report­ed a few weeks ago, our ear­ly pub­lic opin­ion research has found a num­ber of them under­wa­ter to start out with, which is def­i­nite­ly not where you want to be when you’re an ini­tia­tive pro­po­nent. Hey­wood’s on-the-record response was total­ly dis­mis­sive. He told Corn­field: “I hope they believe their polls with their entire souls.”

That’s a curi­ous thing to say, espe­cial­ly in the wake of last year’s midterms, when non-aligned and Demo­c­ra­t­ic-aligned poll­sters’ work was shown to be accu­rate and cred­i­ble, while many Repub­li­can poll­sters’ work was shown to be garbage. (I will nev­er for­get Moore Infor­ma­tion’s last-minute poll claim­ing that Tiffany Smi­ley was up by a frac­tion of a point over Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray. That was real­ly something.)

At NPI, we believe that good bal­lot out­comes aren’t acci­den­tal. They are secured through hard work and effec­tive, thought­ful campaigning.

The pro­gres­sive move­ment in Wash­ing­ton can­not afford to be com­pla­cent about Hey­wood and Wal­sh’s ini­tia­tives. Their pas­sage would be very destruc­tive and threat­en Wash­ing­ton’s future. It’s real­ly impor­tant that we unite Wash­ing­to­ni­ans in defense of the good laws that our Leg­is­la­ture has passed so we can keep mov­ing for­wards instead of tak­ing a mas­sive step back. Hey­wood and Walsh are giv­ing us an oppor­tu­ni­ty in 2024 to trans­form a big right wing ini­tia­tive gam­bit into a show of sup­port for the work of our elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Let’s take it.

To learn more about get­ting involved in the cam­paign to defeat these harm­ful right wing bal­lot mea­sures, please vis­it StopGreed.org.

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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