Jim Walsh promotes his slate of initiatives
Washington State Republican Party Chair Jim Walsh promotes his and Brian Heywood's slate of destructive initiatives outside of the Secretary of State's Elections Annex on December 28th, 2023 (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

A legal chal­lenge filed last month by two promi­nent Repub­li­can par­ty offi­cials that shame­ful­ly sought to evade Wash­ing­ton’s new law requir­ing fis­cal trans­paren­cy in ini­tia­tive descrip­tions received a good and prop­er torch­ing today in Thurston Coun­ty Supe­ri­or Court, with Judge Allyson Zipp rul­ing from the bench that three right wing ini­tia­tives head­ed for the bal­lot would all be sub­ject to pub­lic invest­ment impact dis­clo­sures, in a big win for the pub­lic’s right to know and a big defeat for the state’s right wing.

Zip­p’s rul­ing upheld the applic­a­bil­i­ty of a 2022 law spon­sored by State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mia Gregerson (D‑33rd Dis­trict: South King Coun­ty) and cham­pi­oned by our team at NPI that is wild­ly pop­u­lar with Wash­ing­ton vot­ers of all polit­i­cal stripes. That law says that when a statewide ini­tia­tive is pro­posed that would increase state tax­es or fees — or cut them — vot­ers have to be informed with a sen­tence on the bal­lot tak­ing the fol­low­ing form: This mea­sure would (increase / decrease) fund­ing for _____.

The state has long been in the habit of pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tion about bal­lot mea­sures’ fis­cal impacts in the voter’s pam­phlet. But vot­ers have pre­vi­ous­ly not been alert­ed to the pres­ence of those analy­ses on the bal­lot itself. 

That’s now set to change thanks to our fis­cal trans­paren­cy law. 

Wash­ing­ton State Repub­li­can Par­ty Chair Jim Walsh and Main­stream Repub­li­cans Chair Dean­na Mar­tinez are pri­vate­ly wor­ried that the law will harm their chances of pass­ing a slate of destruc­tive ini­tia­tives spon­sored by Walsh and fund­ed by mul­ti­mil­lion­aire Repub­li­can donor Bri­an Hey­wood. Wal­sh’s pal Tim Eyman, who has expe­ri­ence get­ting decep­tive ini­tia­tives past vot­ers, has been warn­ing any­one in Repub­li­can cir­cles who’ll lis­ten that the trans­paren­cy law is a big prob­lem for the slate.

Last month, Walsh and Mar­tinez heed­ed Eyman’s advice and tasked right wing attor­ney Joel Ard with pre­sent­ing argu­ments that they hoped would stop the Attor­ney Gen­er­al’s office from writ­ing pub­lic invest­ment impact dis­clo­sures (PIIDs) for the three initiatives:

  • Ini­tia­tive 2109 (repeals the state’s cap­i­tal gains tax on the wealthy, there­by repeal­ing bil­lions in edu­ca­tion funding)
  • Ini­tia­tive 2117 (repeals the Cli­mate Com­mit­ment Act, there­by repeal­ing bil­lions in trans­porta­tion and clean ener­gy funding)
  • … and Ini­tia­tive 2124 (sab­o­tages the WA Cares Fund by per­mit­ting peo­ple to with­draw, there­by reduc­ing fund­ing for long-term care)

Ard duti­ful­ly draft­ed a com­plaint seek­ing writs of pro­hi­bi­tion and man­damus, then filed it in Thurston Coun­ty Supe­ri­or Court. Walsh and Mar­tinez began pub­li­ciz­ing the exis­tence of the law­suit sev­er­al days ago, ahead of today’s oral argu­ment before Zipp. 

I described the law­suit ear­li­er this week as one of the more pre­pos­ter­ous our team has ever seen, and I still feel that way about it. It was a pile of weak argu­ments from top to bot­tom. The argu­ments per­tain­ing to why I‑2109 should­n’t get a PIID were espe­cial­ly absurd — so much so that Solic­i­tor Gen­er­al Noah Pur­cell, who pre­sent­ed oral argu­ment for the state today, called them “bizarre” both in writ­ing and again verbally. 

Ard and Pur­cell took turns sum­ma­riz­ing their briefs for Judge Zipp, who lis­tened intent­ly and some­times inter­rupt­ed with ques­tions. She then advised the par­ties, their coun­sel, and all media and mem­bers of the pub­lic present observ­ing that she would be rul­ing from the bench short­ly. She retired to cham­bers for sev­er­al min­utes, then returned and deliv­ered one of the best ver­bal rul­ings I’ve ever heard from a Wash­ing­ton State judge.

It was detailed, thought­ful, methodical.

Step by step, Zipp unpacked the plain­tiffs’ argu­ments and explained why she was not per­suad­ed by them, pro­vid­ing a ratio­nale for why each mea­sure in Wal­sh’s slate should receive the pub­lic invest­ment impact dis­clo­sure that the law requires. When she was done, she asked coun­sel if they had any ques­tions. No one did: not Ard, not Pur­cell, and not the attor­neys rep­re­sent­ing the pro­posed inter­venors in the case. 

The state got the com­plete vic­to­ry and the dis­missal it was hop­ing for. Walsh and Mar­tinez were left with noth­ing. Walsh tried to put a pos­i­tive spin on his defeat out­side the court­room in a video for his PCOs, donors, and fol­low­ers, sug­gest­ing he and Mar­tinez might appeal and argu­ing that Judge Zip­p’s rul­ing had a “sil­ver lin­ing” — specif­i­cal­ly, that Zipp had held that each ini­tia­tive on the slate would repeal a tax or a fee.

Of course, OFM (the Office of Finan­cial Man­age­ment) and the AGO (Attor­ney Gen­er­al’s Office) had already made such deter­mi­na­tions, as the state point­ed out in its brief. But Walsh evi­dent­ly felt he need­ed to put some­thing in his glass for it to be half full.

Ridicu­lous­ly, he then tried to argue that he and Mar­tinez weren’t try­ing to hide infor­ma­tion from vot­ers. He made sim­i­lar com­ments to The Asso­ci­at­ed Press:

“We don’t mind the idea of more infor­ma­tion, said Walsh, chair of the state Repub­li­can Par­ty and a state rep­re­sen­ta­tive from Aberdeen. ”What we’re con­cerned about is it won’t be impar­tial infor­ma­tion. It will be par­ti­san rhetoric, weaponized to make the ini­tia­tives sound bad. The fight isn’t over. We are going to con­tin­ue to make the point that we want unbi­ased non-polit­i­cal information.”

False! Walsh is lying here — plain and simple. 

If you read his and Mar­tinez’s law­suit, as I did, you can plain­ly see that they very much do mind the idea of more infor­ma­tion. The whole point of their law­suit was to get that addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion scrubbed from the bal­lot and hid­den away from vot­ers. They want­ed a judge to order our statewide elect­ed offi­cials — Attor­ney Gen­er­al Fer­gu­son and Sec­re­tary of State Hobbs — to dis­re­gard the law! Here’s their prayer for relief: 

WHEREFORE, Plain­tiffs pray for relief as follows:

  1. Issuance of a Writ of Man­date com­pelling the Direc­tor of the Office of Finan­cial Man­age­ment to pre­pare a revised fis­cal impact state­ment as to I‑2109 which cor­rect­ly states that the enatc­ment of I‑2109 will cause no change to state revenue;
  2. Issuance of a Writ of Pro­hi­bi­tion pro­hibit­ing the Attor­ney Gen­er­al and Sec­re­tary of State from prepar­ing, cer­ti­fy­ing, or caus­ing to be print­ed any pub­lic invest­ment dis­clo­sure state­ment as to any of I‑2117, I‑2124, and I‑2109;
  3. Issuance of a Writ of Man­date com­pelling the Sec­re­tary of State to instruct every coun­ty audi­tor or oth­er coun­ty elec­tion offi­cial to print bal­lots with­out any pub­lic invest­ment dis­clo­sure state­ment as to any of I‑2117, I‑2124, and I‑2109, and
  4. Such oth­er relief as the Court deems just and appropriate. 

You can see that nowhere in there did the plain­tiffs ask the judi­cia­ry’s help to get more favor­able lan­guage. Their aim was to get rid of the PIIDs alto­geth­er.

If Walsh were being hon­est, he would have said some­thing like this: 

After we start­ed pro­mot­ing our law­suit ear­li­er this week that seeks to trash the forth­com­ing warn­ing labels that Bob Fer­gu­son’s office is prepar­ing to add to our ini­tia­tives, we real­ized that we had giv­en our oppo­nents a gift. We basi­cal­ly admit­ted to every­one in Wash­ing­ton that we want to con­ceal infor­ma­tion from vot­ers to improve our mea­sures’ chances of pass­ing. That was a mis­take that made us look real­ly bad, so start­ing today, we’ll be piv­ot­ing to call­ing for neu­tral lan­guage in these things instead. 

Walsh was in the Leg­is­la­ture when HB 1876 — the bill that estab­lished pub­lic invest­ment impact dis­clo­sures — was passed. He filed amend­ments on it, and he spoke against it. He is famil­iar with it. He knows that the Attor­ney Gen­er­al’s office has until July 23rd to pre­pare the phras­ing of the dis­clo­sures. They haven’t been unveiled yet, so Walsh does­n’t know what words they’ll con­tain, apart from the ones hard­cod­ed into statute. Nev­er­the­less, he’s breath­less­ly call­ing the dis­clo­sures “par­ti­san rhetoric.”

How is a sim­ple, fac­tu­al state­ment tak­ing a form such as this “par­ti­san rhetoric”? 

Sim­u­lat­ed PIID for Ini­tia­tive 2124 (note, not official)

This mea­sure would decrease fund­ing for long-term care. 

All it does is state a very per­ti­nent fact about the mea­sure’s consequences. 

An incon­ve­nient fact in Wal­sh’s eyes, no doubt. But a fact, nonetheless.

When HB 1876 was being writ­ten, leg­is­la­tors dis­cussed a means of allow­ing the word­ing cho­sen by the AGO for the dis­clo­sures to be chal­lenged. The final ver­sion of the bill, which became law, pro­vides for such a means. If Walsh and Mar­tinez don’t like the word­ing the AGO comes up with, they can file a chal­lenge and seek judi­cial review at the appro­pri­ate junc­ture. RCW 29A.72.028 express­ly gives them that opportunity.

But again, they’re not actu­al­ly inter­est­ed in improv­ing the word­ing. They don’t want “impar­tial” infor­ma­tion (or, more strange­ly, “non-polit­i­cal” infor­ma­tion — what­ev­er that’s sup­posed to mean!) They want a loaded deck. Ide­al­ly, some lan­guage that invites a yes vote — a ques­tion akin to the sort that were in Tim Eyman’s now-abol­ished push polls that NPI got rid of. They’re not get­ting that, obvi­ous­ly, and they’re sure sore about it.

You can under­stand why. These ini­tia­tives are a mul­ti-mil­lion-dol­lar invest­ment on megadonor Bri­an Hey­wood’s part. They have Wal­sh’s name on them. They’re a big part of Wal­sh’s plans for this pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cycle. And if they go down in flames, well, that could be a very seri­ous blow to Repub­li­cans’ cred­i­bil­i­ty and morale. 

A defeat across the board would pro­vide evi­dence that Wash­ing­ton vot­ers like the key poli­cies that Democ­rats have been enact­ing, despite Repub­li­cans’ years-long insis­tence to the con­trary. This law­suit was a gam­bit to pre­serve that gam­bit. It did­n’t work, and now Walsh seems intent on dig­ging an even deep­er hole for him­self by con­tem­plat­ing an appeal — pre­sum­ably just for opti­cal rea­sons, to show his base he’s a fighter. 

How­ev­er, if he appeals, then he’s invit­ing an appel­late deci­sion that will result in the cre­ation of case law that prob­a­bly won’t be to his lik­ing. And he’ll have to keep pay­ing Joel Ard to throw these real­ly weak argu­ments in front of the judi­cia­ry. It’s a no-win sit­u­a­tion for him. But for the peo­ple of Wash­ing­ton, this case has been illu­mi­nat­ing. It has exposed Wal­sh’s des­per­a­tion and con­tempt for the pub­lic’s right to know. 

Hap­pi­ly, he lost today, and the vot­ers won, thanks to the good sense of Judge Zipp. 

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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