Doug Muder’s “What Republicans Want”

What one would risk in voting for the modern-day Republican brand

I am an enthusiastic fan of the every-Monday posts of Doug Muder in his The Weekly Sift. If you do not already receive The Weekly Sift emails, I encourage you to click the link and sign up to do so. Last Monday the post I’ve copied below, What Republicans Want, captured what the majority of today’s Republican members of the U.S. House would do if enough more of their ilk were elected to the House to achieve an actual functioning Republican majority. File this article for later reference on where the Republican Party would like to take our country. It is a chilling reality. 

Substack tells me that this article is long enough that it might come out truncated in some email inboxes. You can avoid that in advance by simply clicking the title What Republicans Want and reading Muder’s composition on his website. If instead you read the copied post here you may encounter a “View entire message” box to click if the whole post doesn’t come through at first. 

My apologies to those who may have already read “What Republicans Want.”
I’ll be back to my writing on Monday if grandpa duty doesn’t supervene. 

Keep to the high ground,



What Republicans Want


March 25

A higher retirement age, an abortion ban, more tax cuts for corporations and the rich, less regulation, an end to wokeness, and to burn as much fossil fuel as humanly possible. And that’s not all.

Wednesday, the House Republican Study Committee put out a report on its budget proposals for FY 2025, which begins in October. The mainstream media publicized a few of its more controversial features, like recommending an increase in the retirement agefederally banning abortion by giving fertilized ova 14th Amendment rights, and reversing nearly everything that would hasten the day when sustainable energy replaces fossil fuels.

But the report is 180 pages, and you can’t really appreciate the steady drumbeat of wrongheadedness until you read the whole thing (which I did). This article summarizes the report in some detail. But first, let me justify why this document deserves your attention.

How political parties communicate their vision. Ordinarily, there are several ways you can figure out what a political party stands for:

  • position papers of the party’s nominee
  • a detailed platform passed by the national convention
  • bills they pass in any house of Congress they control, even if those bills fail in the other chamber or get vetoed by the president

Unfortunately, none of that works with today’s GOP. Apparently, having an “Issues” page on your campaign website is an obsolete idea. Googling either “Donald Trump for President” or “Joe Biden for President” will take you to a fundraising page with no “Issues” tab. Adding “issues” to the search helps a little with Biden, but not Trump. The Biden search will lead you to a “Priorities” page at, but it’s a bit out of date. (Covid-19 is still the first priority mentioned.) For Trump you’ll be directed to various news outlets’ summaries of what he stands for, not an official statement by the Trump campaign.

Of course, you could instead listen to what Trump says in his speeches, if you can make any sense out of them, beyond grasping Trump’s desire for revenge against the long list of people he feels have wronged him. As I described last week (after his “bloodbath” remark), he tends to speak in word salads that allow his partisans to claim that he didn’t really mean whatever part of his speech you found alarming.

As for platforms, the Democrats passed a fairly detailed one in 2020, which (again) is a little out of date. For example, it says “We will maintain transatlantic support for Ukraine’s reform efforts and its territorial integrity.”, but that was before Russia’s full-scale invasion started.

The Republicans don’t even offer that much. Their 2020 “platform” complains a lot about the media misrepresenting the Party’s positions, but says “the 2020 Republican National Convention will adjourn without adopting a new platform until the 2024 Republican National Convention”. What it does say is that “the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda”. In short: We’re for a man, not a set of ideas.

In 2021-2022, the Democrats had a House majority, but only a 50-50 position in the Senate with two Democratic senators unwilling to do away with the filibuster. So in addition to bills that became law, like the American Rescue PlanBipartisan Infrastructure LawInflation Reduction ActCHIPS ActRespect for Marriage Act, and so on, Nancy Pelosi’s majority passed a flurry of bills that died in the Senate: the Joe Lewis Voting Rights ActFor the People ActGeorge Floyd Justice in Policing Act, and a long list of others.

But the Republican majority that has controlled the House in 2023-2024 is almost completely unable to pass legislation. Simply keeping the government open has been a struggle, which finally came to a conclusion Friday, halfway through FY 2024.

Instead, their time has been dominated by battles over the speakership and investigations of the Biden family that have produced little more than talking points to raise on Fox News. The only major bill I could find that passed the House and died in the Democratic Senate was the Secure the Border Act, which would have funded a border wall and reinstituted President Trump’s wait-in-Mexico immigration policy.

So OK, you might conclude that Republicans at least have a position on the border. Of course, when Democrats tried to offer them most of what they wanted on that issue, they turned it down, preferring to retain the border as a talking point rather than take any action on it. So maybe they care about the border and maybe they don’t.

There are other places you might look to find a Republican vision for the future, but most of them are by outside groups: The Heritage Foundation, for example, has put together Project 2025, which Mother Jones has described as “a blueprint for a wannabe-White-House-autocrat”. That vision calls for undoing any effort to avoid a climate catastrophe, dismantling the civil service, and a few other things.

But that’s the Heritage Foundation, not any official GOP group. So it’s deniable.

The House Republican Study Committee report, on the other hand, actually is something. This committee is not the whole Republican conference, but it’s close: Its membership includes 166 of the 218 (or so) House Republicans. By itself, it’s the “majority of the majority” of House Republicans’ Hastert Rule. The intro letter is promising (other than the apostrophe missing in its first line – “the President of the United States cognitive decline”):

The RSC budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 25 does not shy away from the severity of the challenges America faces. As any family knows, attempting to live within your means when you are in debt is challenging. The RSC budget provides a sober pathway to balance the budget, reduce prices, preserve the programs Americans have paid into, and create economic growth and opportunity. As in previous years, the RSC budget also celebrates the work of House conservatives who have fought for legislation that preserves American values, combats Biden’s woke and weaponized government, and protects the freedoms that should be enjoyed by every American.

So OK, let’s go. What’s in it? Let’s take the sections in order.

Deregulation. This is the first section of the plan, and I was immediately unimpressed. The section’s second paragraph is:

The cost of federal regulations in 2022 was estimated to be $1.939 trillion—amounting to 7.4 percent of GDP.[footnote 1] To contextualize, the total amount of individual income tax revenues for 2022 was $2.263 trillion.[2] Despite the high fiscal toll on the American people, the Biden administration has continued to push for regulation after regulation.

Footnote [1] is a report by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank known for climate-change denial. And while that report does contain the $1.939 trillion estimate, it sends you to another footnote, and I was unable to track down what this number really means.

In general, conservative estimates of the “cost” of regulation ignore any balancing consideration of the benefits. For example, a regulation forcing utilities to replace lead water pipes with something less toxic will cost them money. However, the children whose brain development is not compromised by that lead will grow up to be more intelligent, more productive, and less likely to commit crimes (because lead exposure affects impulse control). So even if we ignore moral considerations and just talk about dollars, those are real economic benefits that any honest appraisal would have to weigh against the costs. But the CEI doesn’t do that kind of stuff.

Among the specific Biden administration regulations the RSC report calls out is “A Green New Deal emissions proposal that will make vehicles significantly more expensive”. Again, the costs of not regulating carbon emissions are ignored: stronger hurricanes, more wildfires, longer droughts, etc. The RSC targets any effort to avoid or mitigate climate change by reducing fossil fuel dependence. So: more drilling, more pipelines, less conservation, more gas-guzzling vehicles, and less accountability for energy companies.

A long list of proposals are backward-looking slaps at Covid regulations like vaccine or mask mandates. These proposals would tie the hands of public health officials in the next pandemic, whatever it is.

Another long list of proposals remove restraints from banks and other financial industries, allowing them to resume many dangerous and deceptive practices that were exposed after the 2008 financial collapse. A perennial Republican proposal is to do away with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, because why would consumers ever need to be protected from predatory banks and other lenders?

But OK, reasonable people can disagree about whether current federal regulations are cost-effective, or whether we need less regulation rather than more. But the proposals endorsed in this section are unlikely to lead to wiser regulatory decisions. Most of them amount to regulating the regulators, binding agencies in red tape that will make it nearly impossible for them to stop corporations who decide to make money by, in effect, killing people.

Taxes. The second section is about tax reform. You might expect Republicans to object to Biden’s tax policies, and maybe trace them back to Obama’s policies.

But no. This section begins by decrying all the taxes ever collected from Americans.

By the end of 2024, the federal government will have taken $98.9 trillion in wealth out of the hands of Americans since 1789 through taxes and other revenue.[71] To the lament of Americans everywhere, the size of government and subsequent mandatory wealth transfers have increased dramatically since the ratification of the 16th Amendment in 1913, which gave the federal government the power to tax income. From the New Deal to the Great Society, the Left has continued to tap into Americans’ hard-earned dollars to fund a bloated federal government. Put simply, bureaucrats in Washington and Democrats in Congress believe they know how to spend your money better than you.

Preach, brother! Why couldn’t the government just leave me alone to build my own interstate highway system?

The simple fact is that through government we can buy things collectively that we can’t buy as individuals: parks, clean air, defense from invaders, public health projects, and stuff like that. Precisely where to place the boundary between the public and private sectors, and how to raise the money for public-sector investments, are also questions people of good faith might legitimately argue about. But “they believe they know how to spend your money better than you” is just a stupid way to look at these questions.

And when you talk about the “bloated federal government” created by the New Deal and the Great Society, what you’re really talking about are Social Security (from the New Deal) and Medicare and Medicaid (from the Great Society). Put together, those programs make up 45% of the federal budget.

Those all fit under the general description of insurance, something government provides much more efficiently than the private sector. (To see why this is, look at medical insurance. A private insurance company devotes much of its marketing budget to making sure they attract the right kind of clients — the ones who are unlikely to get sick. But Medicare insures everybody over 65, so it can’t manipulate its client base. Also, private insurance routinely undercovers preventative care, because a company might be paying to prevent a problem that won’t appear until after the client has switched to another company.)

The HSC report makes one point about the tax system that it’s hard to argue with: “Carve-outs for special interests embody corporate cronyism”, which is bad. However, I don’t think they see the same cronies I do, because a fundamental theme of their plan is to end “high rates of taxation on investments and savings”.

I just finished doing my taxes, and, as usual, I’m appalled: Being retired, most of my income consists of dividends and capital gains, which are taxed at rates far lower than what working people pay on their wages. So even though I benefit, I see the favorable rates on investment income as “carve-outs for special interests”. Treating wages and investment income the same is what seems fair and simple to me. (Typically, the hardest part of my taxes is filling out the “Qualified Dividends and Capital Gains Worksheet”. But it saves me thousands, so I do.)

Fairest of all is cracking down on rich people who cheat on their taxes — which is why I support the Inflation Reduction Act’s increase in the enforcement budget of the IRS. (The HSC report falsely refers to this as “Providing funding to hire 87,000 new IRS agents to spy on low-and middle-income Americans.”)

And continuing their pro-global-warming agenda, the RSC wants to repeal all the fossil fuel taxes in the Inflation Reduction Act, together with any tax breaks for sustainable energy sources.

The RSC also wants to eliminate federal inheritance taxes, a.k.a. “the death tax”. Since the threshold for filing estate tax is now $13.6 million, only the estates of very wealthy people pay this tax. (If you don’t think $13.6 million sounds like wealth, you’re out of touch with the American people.)

If there’s one thing the last 50 years have proved, it’s that giving the rich tax cuts doesn’t increase revenue. But the RSC hasn’t learned this lesson.

The RSC Budget would cut taxes by nearly $5.5 trillion over the next 10 years. The pro-growth effects of these tax reductions would result in $566 billion of additional revenue.

This is what George H. W. Bush correctly called “voodoo economics” when he ran against Reagan in 1980. The RSC’s voodoo is what lets it cut taxes and claim that it produces a balanced budget.

Poverty and Welfare. The RSC report has a clear view of why people are poor: They’re lazy and need to be pushed to work more.

The RSC Budget would require all federal benefit programs be reformed to include work promotion requirements that would help people move away from dependence and toward self-sufficiency.

Here’s what the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says about that:

Studies evaluating TANF and its predecessor’s work requirements found that the modest employment increases that occurred shortly after the requirements were first implemented faded over time (generally because most adults not subject to the requirements also found jobs, just a bit more slowly).[40] These requirements did little to reduce poverty and tended to increase rates of deep poverty (defined as income below half of the federal poverty line), rigorous evaluations found.[41]Families who lost cash assistance faced serious consequences that include higher rates of hardship, such as higher risk of homelessness, utility shutoffs, and lower school attendance among children.

Fundamentally, the Republican view of motivation is “Carrots for the rich. Sticks for the poor.” If you want rich people to do something, you have to give them a tax break or a subsidy. But if you want poor people to do something, you need to threaten them with a punishment.

But this paragraph is my favorite:

Despite two positive changes included in the Fiscal Responsibility Act, one unintended consequence was to exempt homeless individuals, veterans, and individuals aged 24 and under who were previously in foster care from the work requirement. The RSC budget supports revising existing SNAP law to ensure that these groups of people are subject to the work requirement if they do not have dependents. SNAP and our welfare system should embrace that work conveys dignity and self-sustainment and encourage individuals to find gainful employment, not reward them for staying at home.

Did you catch that? We need to be careful that we don’t reward homeless people for staying at home.

The RSC does not grasp the concept of a poverty trap, something constructive that people could theoretically do to escape poverty, but they can’t do practically because they’re too poor. For example, homeless people have trouble maintaining basic hygiene, which makes it very hard for them to get hired. But if they don’t somehow come up with jobs, we’re going to stop subsidizing their food. This is going to give them “dignity”.

Republicans also want to bundle all such programs into “block grants” that give states “flexibility to administer their own programs”. These bundles have a terrible history, because the poor can’t afford lobbyists. As a result, money in the grants tends to wind up being spent on all sorts of things other than poor people. This was at the root of the Brett Favre fraud in Mississippi.

They also want to turn child nutrition into block grants, and the report decries the “widespread fraud” in the free school lunch and breakfast program, i.e., some kids who aren’t quite poor enough are getting fed.

Defense. The RSC proposes a $895.2 billion FY 2025 defense budget, slightly more than Biden’s $850 budget. The report lists a number of things it wants to fund, but doesn’t say which ones are already in Biden’s budget.

One thing the RSC does want to do with the defense budget is fight its culture wars, eliminating any money for “woke training and programming”, such as teaching soldiers of different races, genders, and religions how to get along and respect one another. It worries about military aid to Ukraine and other nations going through international organizations that “have a history of promoting abortion or sexual orientation and gender identity programs”. It’s not enough that our money not go into such programs; the organizations associated with them are too tainted to use. It wants Defense strategy to ignore climate change, and cancels funding for efforts to run military bases on sustainable power by 2030.

DOD should not waste valuable taxpayer dollars on inefficient forms of energy. Energy needs should be met through the most cost-effective and tactically sound methods possible. The DOD should be prohibited from entering into any contract for the procurement or production of any non- petroleum-based fuel for use as the same purpose or as a drop-in substitute for petroleum. Further, the Armed Forces should be exempt from procurement requirements for clean-energy vehicles and renewable energy portfolio standards for DOD facilities.

The RSC wants to privatize as much of the military’s support positions as possible. This includes doing away with the independent school system on military bases, which is excellent.

There are long sections focused on China and Russia, but again, it’s hard to tell which proposals differ from what Biden wants to do. The report is strongly supportive of Ukraine, but does not mention that Republicans have been blocking funding since September.

The fact that Iran is “closer than ever before to a nuclear weapon” is somehow Biden’s fault, when it was Trump who cancelled the agreement that controlled Iran’s nuclear programs. The report describes Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran as “successful”, even though this policy failed to produce the “better deal” Trump promised.

The Hamas attack on Israel is also somehow Biden’s fault, and had nothing to do with Trump’s decision to ignore the Palestinian problem entirely.

Conservative values. There’s a long section on abortion, beginning with

RSC celebrates the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision as a historic victory in the effort to defend innocent life and to return to the Constitution as it was written. … The RSC Budget applauds the following measures designed to advance the cause of life:

Then follows a long list of proposals various Republicans have advanced to limit women’s access to abortion, including ones that would federally block drug-induced abortions, prohibit abortions after the mythical six-week “fetal heartbeat”, recognize a newly fertilized ovum as a “person” under the 14th Amendment, ban abortions at 15-weeks due to mythical fetal pain, prohibit the use of fetal stem cells in research, prohibit any ObamaCare health insurance policy from covering abortion, prevent telehealth services from prescribing abortion drugs, deny federal funds to universities whose student health organizations provide abortions, and dozens of others.

The report endorses a similar list of anti-critical-race-theory proposals, which ban teaching or promoting “critical race theory” in all sorts of settings. No one can define CRT, but as best I can tell, any recognition of White privilege in America or any truthful recounting of America’s racial history violates these proposed laws.

A number of proposals to protect gun rights are lauded, including several that prevent the government from keeping track of who owns or purchases guns. The RSC also wants to defund red-flag rules that take guns away from domestic abusers, allow concealed carry across state lines, and remove regulations on silencers. The problem of mass shootings is not mentioned.

The report endorses the usual bunch of anti-trans proposals: targeting trans athletes, banning care options, mandating bathroom policies, etc. The section on the border is about what you’d expect: finish Trump’s wall, reinstitute Trump’s cruel and probably illegal treatment of migrants, etc. Some proposals (like hiring more asylum judges to process cases faster) were included in the border proposal Republicans tanked after Trump said he wanted the issue to campaign on. The RSC also wants to reinterpret the 14th Amendment so that it no longer guarantees birthright citizenship, despite what the text actually says.

Healthcare. The RSC wants to return to the bad old days before ObamaCare. The report calls for a “more market-oriented” approach to health insurance, and promises lower premiums by eliminating “ObamaCare mandates”. In other words, you could once again buy junk insurance that doesn’t cost as much but will vanish in a puff of smoke when you actually need it. States would be empowered to define what insurance plans have to cover, and insurance companies could sell across state lines. This would lead to a race-to-the-bottom among states, similar to what we saw with credit card regulation after interstate banking was approved. (There’s a reason why you have to send your payments to South Dakota.) Younger, healthier individuals could get lower-priced policies, taking them out of the insurance pool. The result would be exorbitantly expensive insurance for people who actually need care. The Inflation Reduction Act’s provisions to control drug prices would be repealed. Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program would be “streamlined” by turning them into block grants to the states.

Medicare. The RSC plan to “save” Medicare is essentially a privatization plan, where Medicare mainly provides premium supports for private insurance programs.

This plan ignores one essential fact about private health insurance: Competition between insurance companies does not center on providing better care at lower prices, but on luring healthier clients and discouraging sicker ones. Denying care is a double-win for an insurance company. Not only does the company not pay for the care, but patients who need care will be motivated to find other insurance.

Take cancer, for example. You don’t really know how good your plan’s cancer coverage will be until you get cancer. But at that point you have become an undesirable customer, so the company would rather you switched to some other insurance. Providing the kind of care and service that attracts people with cancer is a bad business model.

Social Security. The report points to the projection that the Social Security Trust Fund will run out of money in 2033, and correctly observes that there are three things to do about that: keep the program running with money from the general fund, raise taxes, or cut benefits. It rejects the first two options and proposes to cut benefits.

Recognizing political dynamite, the RSC refuses to cut current benefits for people already retired. However, Republicans would

  • force Congress to vote on cost-of-living increases every year, as opposed to the current system where COLAs are automatic
  • lower benefits for future retirees in a means-tested way
  • raise the retirement age as life expectancy rises.

None of these benefit cuts are quantified. And, as always, Republicans promise increased revenues from the (mythical) economic growth that their income tax cuts will promote. These days, though, they also add in the economic “growth” that will come from burning more fossil fuels (as long as you don’t have to account for the costs of climate change).

Raising the retirement age as people live longer and are able to work longer makes a certain intuitive sense. But there’s a problem: The gains in lifespan almost entirely benefit wealthier people. Working class and poor people, in general, have had only modest increases in life expectancy in recent decades.

MIT News reported in 2016:

[T]he study shows that in the U.S., the richest 1 percent of men lives 14.6 years longer on average than the poorest 1 percent of men, while among women in those wealth percentiles, the difference is 10.1 years on average.

This eye-opening gap is also growing rapidly: Over roughly the last 15 years, life expectancy increased by 2.34 years for men and 2.91 years for women who are among the top 5 percent of income earners in America, but by just 0.32 and 0.04 years for men and women in the bottom 5 percent of the income tables.

Also, while people who do primarily mental work can easily work into their 70s if they’re so inclined, people who do physical labor often don’t have that option. If you raise their retirement age, they’ll wind up eating cat food.

Budget reform. The RSC proposes a series of “reforms” that would lock the government into conservative priorities, no matter what the voters want. Like a constitutional amendment to cap revenues and force a balanced budget.

This proposal would bar annual spending in excess of 20 percent of GDP and prevent Congress from relying on tax increases to balance the budget, which is key to preserving a dynamic and innovative economy.

This is a seriously bad idea. For example, consider the recent pandemic. In FY 2020 (Trump’s last full year), federal spending was over 30% of GDP. That spending was what allowed Americans to stay home, and prevented many Americans from losing their homes when their jobs disappeared. If the government had been limited to 20% of GDP, Covid would have run wild and probably millions more Americans would have died. Millions of others would have been homeless.

Now start imagining various future climate-change doom scenarios — seas rising, farmlands turning to deserts, and so on. The government would just have to throw up its hands.

And not allowing Congress to raise taxes makes all sorts of policy changes impossible, whether voters want them or not. Republicans wouldn’t have to argue against Medicare for All or the Green New Deal, for example, because both would be constitutionally infeasible.

The RSC also proposes that the reconciliation process not be allowed to increase spending or taxes. In other words, if Republicans get control of the presidency and Congress, they can use reconciliation to pass their priorities (like the Trump tax cuts), but if Democrats get control, they can’t pass theirs (like the Inflation Reduction Act).

Other mandatory spending. There’s a grab-bag of stuff in here, most of which was too in-the-weeds for me to evaluate. However, I did notice the proposals to end student loan forgiveness, auction off the TVA’s non-nuclear assets, revoke the charters of home-loan guaranteeing agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and reduce the benefits of federal employees.

Non-defense discretionary spending. Another grab-bag of (mostly) cuts. Stop the Forest Service from buying more land. Eliminate anything to do with “the left’s climate agenda”, or any program that can be tarred as “woke”. Eliminate the Consumer Product Safety Commission because it advances “Biden’s radical climate agenda, including attempting to ban gas stoves”. (This whole talking point is a canard. The footnote that supposedly supports it includes a CPSC spokesman saying the commission “isn’t coming for anyone’s gas stoves”.)

The RSC wants to cut funding for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, not because cybersecurity isn’t a problem, but because CISA is trying to fight disinformation online. The Republican agenda is based on disinformation, so they see this as a threat. Similarly, Republicans want to eliminate Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention Grants, because the program doesn’t exempt right-wing terrorist groups. OSHA is targeted for cuts to get revenge for President Biden’s Covid vaccine mandates. Similarly, the US contribution to the World Health Organization is eliminated.

Of course Republicans want to cut funding for the EPA and leave the Paris Climate Accords. Also: stop funding Amtrak and prohibit spending on high-speed rail.

The report calls for eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Corporation for Public Broadcasting, as well as cutting support for the Smithsonian (because the museum complex is too woke).

So there it is: the Republican fantasy world in its full glory. Now you know what you’re voting for if you vote Republican in November.

Business Before People

Al French worked behind the scenes to keep people in the dark

In 2017, news spread that the municipal wells serving the City of Airway Heights out west of Spokane were contaminated with PFAS—and that the likely source was PFAS-laden fire-fighting film used at Fairchild Air Force Base for decades. At the time PFAS in a municipal well may have sounded like a local problem. Airway Heights soon abandoned its municipal wells and connected to the City of Spokane’s municipal water system, which draws from the Spokane Valley–Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer. At the time it might have seemed like the problem was solved.

To its credit, in 2017 Fairchild AFB took some ownership of the PFAS contamination that was also showing up in private wells, but the AFB limited its outreach to wells west of Hayford Road. They based this boundary on the likely slow flow of groundwater in a generally northeasterly direction from AFB, a flow limited to a paleo-channel in the basalt bedrock. The eastern edge of the paleo-channel, it was reasoned, would restrict the contamination from Fairchild AFB to the west side of Hayford Road.

So when PFAS began turning up at elevated levels in the private wells of homeowners on the east side of Hayford Road it was a hydrogeological puzzle begging for explanation. Thanks to the investigative journalism efforts of Tim Connor we know that, by 2020, a state grant of $450,000 through the Department of Ecology was available to test for PFAS in a scientifically-selected sample of private wells on the West Plains. What was needed to get the PFAS investigation off the ground was an official government entity willing to administer the grant. 

For Spokane County to take on what was seen as an “‘ordinary’ ministerial task” for the benefit of the people on the West Plains would require the approval of what was then the three member Spokane County Commission. Al French was the logical one of the three commissioners to approach to put the grant administration on the county’s agenda. After all, Mr. French nominally represents the people living on the West Plains, and he was already very involved with development in that area, including business development associated with Spokane International Airport. (SIA and the surrounding land is governmentally part of the City of Spokane). One might have expected that Mr. French would be anxious to support an offer of outside money and expertise to clarify the problem of groundwater contamination affecting the health of his constituents, worried families whose children, cattle, chickens, and garden produce had been absorbing PFAS-laden water. But that’s not what happened. The quotes that follow are from a post by investigative journalist Tim Connor titled “Al French and the ‘Forever Chemicals’ Coverup.” (For additional detail on this problem I recommend visiting this webpage at Connor’s The Daily Rhubarb and reading the posts listed there starting with the oldest.) 

The grant application was ready in February of 2020. The last box to check was a routine briefing for the county commissioners prior to their expected vote to approve the grant application. What Lindsay [the Environmental Services Manager for Spokane County’s water resources department] didn’t expect is the phone call he says he received from commissioner Al French the day before the commissioners’ meeting.

Lindsay says French called to tell him the item had been removed from the agenda. When I [Tim Connor] asked Lindsay if French had given a reason for pulling the item he said he had; that French was “concerned about the timing and the potential effect on the airport.”

“I think my response was ‘this isn’t going away,’” Lindsay added. “And he (French) said, ‘I know that.’”

What had not yet been revealed publicly by 2020 was that three years earlier test wells at Spokane International Airport (SIA) had been quietly sampled. Those samples showed elevated levels of PFAS. PFAS-containing fire-fighting film had been used at SIA in the past—making SIA itself another likely source of PFAS of at least some of the West Plains groundwater contamination. It seems that those officials at SIA who were aware of the 2017 SIA test well results were hoping Fairchild Air Force Base (i.e. the federal government) would take all the responsibility for the PFAS contamination of the West Plains groundwater and SIA could sneak under the radar.

At the time Mr. French refused to put the PFAS grant on the county commission’s agent he: 

…held at least three key positions related to this story: county commissioner, airport board member (including the positions of vice chair and board secretary) and health district board member. French is also the chairman of “S3R3 Solutions” a state chartered “community empowerment zone” created to promote development and employment in the “West Plains Airport Area.” SIA CEO Larry Krauter is vice chair of S3R3…

With powerful positions and connections in all four of these entities Mr. French was well positioned to play behind-the-scenes political chess to block Spokane County from agreeing to administer the $450,000 grant in the hope of keeping SIA out of the spotlight. Having been blocked by Mr. French’s quiet refusal to put the request to administer the grant on the county agenda, other players connected to the grant offering approached the Spokane Regional Health District. But here, too, the county quietly blocked the effort. Before the Spokane Regional Health District’s Board could sign off on the grant it needed authorization from the county commission for Mike Hermanson, Spokane County’s water resources manager, to work on the project. 

Two weeks later a grants administrator with Ecology’s toxic cleanup program [the agency offering the grant] sent a reminder that Ecology would need confirmation from both the county and the health district in order to release the funds. It was Hermanson who replied by email four days later: “I am still waiting direction on whether our program is in a position to accept the grant funding.”

Hermanson resigned his county position four months later. He says the obstruction on the PFAS study factored into his decision. 

The three member Spokane County Board of County Commissioners led and dominated by Commissioner Al French (and possibly without even the awareness of the other two members, Josh Kerns and Mary Kuney) never publicly took up the issue of grant administration by the county. (Thanks to the Washington State Open Meeting Law it actually would have been illegal for Mr. French to have discussed the issue of the grant with either of the other two commissioners outside of a public meeting—so Kerns and Kuney have plausible deniability on this issue.)

What happened next is telling. Note that “the airport” in this quote certainly includes SIA’s CEO Larry Krauter as well as member of the airport board, vice chair, and board secretary Al French:

When the state Department of Ecology finally learned of the airport’s positive tests for PFAS it moved swiftly to name SIA as a “potentially liable person” and initiate an enforcement action under Washington’s Model Toxics Control Act. The airport’s response was to hire a Washington D.C.-based law firm to fire back at Ecology, sharply criticizing its investigation and threatening the agency with possible legal action for undermining its potential real estate sales.

How could threatening this lawsuit more plainly state that the airport and Mr. French were more interested in the value of real estate than they were interested in the health and safety of the people of the West Plains, people who were at the time still consuming PFAS contaminated water?

The only good news after all this systematic delay is that the grant itself did not die. The City of Medical Lake stepped in to administer the grant. 

But that’s not the end of it. Mr. French, ever the astute politician, after working behind the scenes to delay or even scuttle efforts to test private wells on the West Plains, has now jumped on the testing bandwagon as if he had promoted the investigation from the very beginning. According to this YouTube video (start at 3:12) of Mr. French reading a prepared speech, “finding a solution to PFAS and PFOS contamination of the water source of Airway Heights and the West Plains” is to him “of critical importance” and a “national problem.” Somehow, after blocking well testing his statement rings hollow.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. In 2017 Fairchild AFB was already getting its water from the City of Spokane—as was the Spokane International Airport (SIA)—so people drinking the tap water overlying the sources of the PFAS contamination were not and are not drinking contaminated water. SIA is governmentally part of the City of Spokane.

P.P.S. I sketched out the 80 year background on Per- and polyFluoro Alkyl Substances (PFAS) in a post titled Science and the PFAS Story

The Spokane County Commission

A Perspective on Power

In 2016, when I first started writing these emails I assumed that the job of county commissioner in the State of Washington was to oversee the parts of each county that weren’t controlled by a municipal government. Living in the City of Spokane, I thought, erroneously, that I really didn’t need to pay much attention to who the Spokane County Commissioners were or what they were doing. 

Reading the Spokesman Review did very little to dispel my misconception. Most of the reporting seemed to focus on controversies involving the City of Spokane’s mayor and city council, not the county commissioners. The seven member Spokane City Council meetings are held in the evening when it is convenient for citizens to attend. In contrast, County Commission legislative meetings are held in the afternoon, are usually short, and public testimony is sparse. 

Until January 2023, Spokane County’s county commission, like county commissions in the vast majority of Washington State’s counties, was composed of only three commissioners, commissioners who tended to vote 3-0 on most issues. There was little controversy or even discussion in the commissioners’ public meetings that might draw news coverage. (See P.S. for reasons why this was so.) 

In 2023, following redistricting and the November 2022 general elections, the Spokane County commission was expanded to five members (once again, see P.S. for more background). The three prior commissioners, Al French, Josh Kerns, and Mary Kuney all kept a seat but (at least on paper) represent smaller districts (new Districts 5, 3, and 4, respectively). Commissioners are no longer elected countywide in the general election, but rather only within their respective districts. In 2023, the original three were joined by Amber Waldref and Chris Jordan (new Districts 2 and 1, respectively). New Commissioner Districts 2 and 1 lie almost entirely within the City of Spokane. (See map). If my naive concept of what county government does were accurate no such representation for the citizens of Spokane would be needed (or desired). 

So what do Spokane County Commissioners actually do? They do far more than just sit on the dais and vote at commissioner meetings. They sit on a wide variety of state and county boards and commissions along with both elected and salaried officials from the both the county and the municipalities, along with citizen volunteers and representatives from interest groups. For a list of some of these boards and commissions, explore here. As a more concrete example pertinent to one County Commissioner (from Tim Connor’s writing concerning the West Plains PFAS story—the topic for Wednesday):

Until Al French was replaced on the Spokane Regional Health District board by new county commissioner Amber Waldref earlier this year [2023] he held at least three key positions related to this [PFAS] story: county commissioner, airport board member (including the positions of vice chair and board secretary) and health district board member. French is also the chairman of “S3R3 Solutions” a state chartered “community empowerment zone” created to promote development and employment in the “West Plains Airport Area.”

If you dig into the details of many of these boards and commissions, how they are constituted and who serving on them has a vote, you find that these details are subject to decisions made by the county commissioners. A particularly egregious example of this concerned a change in the composition of the Spokane Regional Health District Board of Health during the Covid pandemic. Commissioner French, leading his two relatively like-minded fellow commissioners, entirely remade the SRHD Board to his political liking. (See my comments and Shawn Vestal’s article here—no paywall.) This is the sort of thing that typically happens behind the scenes with little public awareness. 

Salaries, term limits, and what they mean to the accumulation of power

The salary of the City of Spokane’s six City Council Members is $49,799, whereas the salary of each of the five serving on the Spokane County Commission is far more robust at $128,000. (That latter salary is similar to the salaries of other County-level elected officials like Treasurer and Assessor.) Back in 2014 for an article on the political career of Al French by Daniel Walters Mr. French was “Asked if he has more influence as [a Spokane County] commissioner than he would as mayor [of the City of Spokane], he doesn’t hesitate: ‘Yes.’” Mr. French fully understood back then, having previously served as a City of Spokane City Council Member, was that not only are Spokane County Commissioners much better paid, but Commissioners wield proportionally far more power with less opposition—and much less irksome news coverage—than any City of Spokane elected official. 

Finally, County Commissioners are not term-limited. City of Spokane elected officials either leave with their accumulated expertise after their two allowed 4 year terms or they must seek another elected office. County commissioners may continue to amass power and knowledge of “the ropes” for as many terms as they can stay elected

If any of you harbored the same naive concept of county government as that with which I was afflicted, I hope this provides some civic orientation. We ought to pay much more attention to the County Commission and its role—and urge the local media to do the same. This is an election year—and two of the five commissioner seats are once again in play. Pay attention.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. How county governments in Washington State organized and function is spelled out in the WA State Constitution (Article XI) and Title 36 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW). According to those rules most Washington State counties (including Spokane County before 2023) are run by three county commissioners. Each commissioner comes from one of three distinct commissioner districts within that county. Within each district a top-two partisan primary election determines who advances to the November general. In the November election the top two elected from each district stand for election countywide. In a county in which one party’s voters are dominant, this formula tends to yield a three person commission all of the same party. If one of the three commissioners has been in office a long time, has a dominant personality and an opinion on everything, that person, hearing little if any dissent, will tend to bulldoze the votes of the other two commissioners. 

This dynamic of single person dominance is (unintentionally, I think) bolstered by Washington State’s Open Meeting Act. The law (act) prevents (at least theoretically) two commissioners on any three member commission from discussing commission business—except in the setting of an open public meeting. Faced with a dominant personality like that of Spokane County Commissioner Al French it takes a lot of confidence to even ask an innocent question in an open meeting—for fear of being publicly belittled. 

Partly in recognition of this dynamic, in 2018 the Washington State legislature passed a law modifying the composition of county commissions and election of county commissioners for counties exceeding a certain population. Specifically, the change in state law moved Spokane County from three to five commissioners—and, importantly, mandated that they be elected solely from the district in which they reside. Tellingly, Commissioner Al French did everything he could to keep the law from going into effect, including bringing a lawsuit on behalf of Spokane County (nominally and probably at county, i.e. taxpayer, expense) challenging the constitutionality of the new law. The lawsuit went all the way to the WA State Supreme Court—where French and his fellow plaintiffs lost.

Since January of 2022 we have had a five member county commission in Spokane County, including two new commissioners, Amber Waldref and Chris Jordan, who are not afraid to graciously express their opinions in public meetings. Undoubtedly, it helps that pairs of commissioners are now legally allowed to casually talk over county business—and learn from each other—when not under the spotlight of a public meeting. Lately, I have attended a number of the Tuesday at 2PM county commission legislative sessions. The change in tone from the dominance display of the three member meetings is palpable—and welcome. A growing number of citizens attend these (usually very short, often less than a half hour) 2PM Tuesday meetings in the basement of the Spokane County Public Works Building just east of the Courthouse. I recommend stopping by. It is a window into how things work.

A Call for Delegates

An Opportunity for Engagement

Until 2016 I considered myself an independent. I imagined the Democratic and Republican Parties as well-funded machines, right down to the local level. The image I held was of men in eyeshades smoking cigars in some back room making all the decisions about party platforms and deciding who they would run for elected office. I was far off base. Instead, I find that the people who lead and who turn up for local gatherings of Democrats are unpaid volunteers with a genuine interest in making life better for everyone by supporting small “d” democratic government.

For the last 30 years, ten under Republican U.S. Rep. Nethercutt and twenty under Republican U.S. Rep. McMorris Rodgers, their staff, their political machines, and, lately, the Washington Policy Center, the Republican Party has been the major political presence in eastern Washington, especially rural eastern Washington. Meanwhile Democratic Party organizations have struggled. Part of that struggle results simply from the geography of the state: interconnecting with government in Olympia and with the Washington State Democratic Party has been time-consuming and expensive in travel and lodging. 

Local Democratic Party organizations are re-building—to no small degree simply in reaction to the extremism of MAGA Republicans. The Washington State Democratic Convention, held in even-numbered years, is meeting in Bellevue from Friday through Sunday, June 21-23. This year there is an important opportunity: you can attend virtually. You do not have to shell out money for a hotel room, meals, and travel to share in the experience. 

Why Would You Want to Sign Up as a Delegate?

Supporting the Democratic Party is good way to start doing something with your angst over the chance of a takeover of government by MAGA Republicans this November. 

This year the Washington State Democratic Party is offering an expanded opportunity for representation from the east side of the State (that’s us!) at the same time that virtual online attendance offers an economical way to attend. This could be a big win for representation from our side of the state—but it requires enough people to join in the process, fill the offered slots, and attend to keep this opportunity open. You don’t need to be an experienced “pol.” Being there mostly as an observer will help save eastern Washington representation—and help you understand how it all works.

Here’s some of what will happen at the State Convention:

  • Elect National Delegates to the National Democratic Convention August 19 to 22, 2024, at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois
  • Adopt State platform and State Party resolutions
  • Network with other convention delegates and get organized
  • Get energized to win the 2024 elections
  • Bring your enthusiasm and energy back to your district

So How Does This Work?

Delegates attend the State Democratic Convention based on election by the Democratic Precinct Committee Officers (PCOs) of each legislative district (LD). Each of the 49 Washington State LDs is allotted at least 20 Delegate slots (more are possible based on diversity—but how that works is a bit complicated). Perhaps in western Washington so many Democrats run in each LD to be Delegates that elections get complicated, but on our east side of the state the expanded number of delegate slots offered has caught the Democratic Legislative District organizations a little off guard. This offers an opportunity to present your interest in being a Delegate with a high probability of being able to serve without having to try to dazzle PCOs with your credentials. 

Remember that the leaders of the Democratic Legislative District organizations are all volunteers without huge resources for outreach—that’s a reason for me to launch this appeal. (I’m almost as new to these details as most of my readers are.) 

To take advantage of the offered increase in representation from eastern Washington at the State Democratic Convention, the Democratic LD organizations need to receive electronic your application for a slots by March 31 (See below.) 

If you’re unsure what Legislative District or Congressional District you are registered in go to, put in your name and birthdate, then click “Your Voter Registration” and scroll down to “Districts”.

More info: Click here for more information on the whole process from the State Democratic Party.

If you’re interested by still have questions there is a virtual meeting this Sunday between 2 and 3PM titled “How to run for delegate” training  (click to sign up). Check out other gatherings on the topic by clicking here.

Signing Up: Set up an account with the State Democratic Party. Click

I filled it out in about ten minutes. I don’t think you have to submit a complicated and lengthy bio, just the basics.

At the end on the last page you can scroll down and click “Register Today” to sign up for election as a Delegate.

Thanks for considering this, Washington voters. This is part of the nitty-gritty of how the people who represent us in government get elected and how the two major party platforms are developed.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. If you’re really curious about how all this comes about and is regulated check out the Revised Code of Washington (RCW 29A.80). The law lays out the ground rules for the function of the “major parties”, i.e. any party that garners 5% or more for any statewide or federal office.

P.P.S. If you’re wondering how the Spokane County Democratic Party fits into all this consider that Spokane County contains all of LDs 3, 4, and 6 and parts of LD 7 and 9. The Spokane County Democratic Party will hold a county convention in June at which the local Democratic platform will be discussed.

My Memory Crutch

A couple of tricks

One of the benefits of writing these posts and storing them electronically is the ability to call back the details of a post using just a few key words—a valuable asset for a failing memory. 

Most of my readers receive these posts as emails, but there is also a Substack website for Indivisible-The High Ground: where that day’s and all of the prior posts are available. If on some Monday, Wednesday, or Friday a post does not appear in you email inbox, first look in the junk folder, if it’s not there go to the website. (You can also get to this Substack website by Googling “Indivisible the high ground”—maybe that is easier to remember.) Any new post should appear in your inbox and on the website at the same time. If it seems that I’ve quit publishing because the posts no longer appear in your inbox you can check at this Substack website to see if I’m still alive and writing. 

I also maintain an archive at another website: It serves as a backup that I update every few weeks (that is, the most recent posts may not yet have been uploaded to it). This website has a more robust search function than does the Substack website. At I can, for instance, put the word “Baumgartner” in the search box, hit Return, and the search engine will call up every post in which that word appears. This is very useful for writers like me who cannot remember things like first names or the details of some anecdote or fact related to the word I do remember. 

Finally, if you visit either of these websites using a desktop or laptop there is a nifty trick that can save you a whole lot of extra reading and skimming. At least on an Apple computer, if you press COMMAND and the letter “F” at roughly the same time, a box will open in to which you can enter a word or phrase to search for in an open document (not every document on the website, just the open document). So if “Baumgartner” appeared only once in the tenth paragraph of a post, COMMAND F will highlight that occurrence. COMMAND F can be a huge time-saver. (If you know of a similar word search method on a iPhone please click Reply and let me know.)

Now you know all my secrets… 🙂

Until Friday,

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. I do this writing—and provide all the links—for the purpose of disseminating referenced information. Please feel free to forward these posts, repost them on other platforms, and use the information and the links as the basis for Letters to the Editor. I don’t care about attribution.

Spokane County Republican Party–Off the Rails

The new platform is another hard right turn off the rails and into the weeds

When a candidate for public office in the State of Washington declares on the ballot “Prefers Republican Party” they are signing up to support the legislative goals and values of the Republican Party. After all, for many voters party identity guides their voting choices. It, therefore, behooves voters to pay some attention to the Republican Party platform, the statement of goals and values of the party to which the candidate is signing on.

On Saturday, March 2, 2024, approximately 450 Spokane County Republican “precinct delegates,” i.e. the current party faithful, gathered at the Spokane Valley Assembly of God Church near the corner of Broadway and Sullivan (see P.S. for more detail). One task they undertook was to update the Spokane County Republican Party Platform, a platform that had not been adjusted since 2014. (As of this writing that 2014 Platform, not the updated one, is still the platform posted on the Spokane GOP website.)

Emry Dinman covered the March 2 SpokaneGOP Convention in his Spokesman article “Secession, fluoride and hand-counted ballots: Spokane County GOP adopts first changes to platform in decade.” Here are a few of the highlights [bold is mine]:

The [new] platform also calls for the removal of the United Nations Headquarters, currently located in New York City, from U.S. soil and strict limits on the power of the governor to act through executive order during emergency situations, a response to the authorities wielded by Gov. Jay Inslee during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Is this a result of the ongoing conspiracy-laden blither about “The New World Order” that has emanated from many right wing church pulpits? 

On a more local level:

The county party now supports actions “up to and including secession from the State of Washington” in the event the state government “continues to infringe on our Constitutional rights or the Spokane County Republican Party Platform,” 

Apparently there was some controversy over this platform plank calling for secession. Even the man who has been pushing for his “Liberty State” for years, disgraced former State Representative, current Republican PCO, and current “On Fire Ministries” self-appointed pastor Matt Shea, voted against putting secession in the platform. As usual, however, he declined to discuss his reasoning with reporters. It seems unlikely that he has given up on his pet “51st State” proposal but would rather it not be displayed as a plank of the official platform.

The another Republican’s argument against declaring “secession” as a party plank was even more revealing [the bold is mine]:

Alene Lindstrand, who had served on the platform committee tasked with compiling the suggested changes, called for the secession provision to be removed. She argued that Spokane, the largest city east of the Cascades, had “fallen to the Marxists,” weakening the position of a possible 51st state.

The Convention went on [the bold is mine]:

The prior [2014] platform already called for identification in order to cast a vote and supported a “physical paper trail” for ballots. Now, however, the party also calls for removing all “internet-capable machines, computers and software” from the election system, an end to mail-in voting and a return to hand counting ballots, all while reporting final election results the night of the election, a proposal that current and former election officials from both major parties called unfeasible and unnecessary.

Clearly, these people have watched Trump’s darling, Dinesh D’Souza’s debunked documentary “2000 Mules” way too many times. Sane, pre-Trump, former Washington State Republican elected officials Sam Reed and Kim Wyman went on record against this plank in Mr. Dinman’s Spokesman article

And then there are the existing parts of the local Republican’s 2014 platformthat have taken on new importance now that the Trump/McConnell right wing U.S. Supreme Court, via the Dobbs decision, has stripped away a woman’s constitutionally guaranteed right to make medical decisions about her own body. In the 2014 platform’s third paragraph:

We recognize the right to life from natural conception to natural death as inalienable.

On the third page of the 2014 platform:

The Spokane County Republican Party believes that the State of Washington must act only in a fashion that protects all innocent human life in our state and we believe that the states must have the right to codify the sanctity of life from conception until natural death.

We see the practical results of “from conception until natural death” in Idaho (criminalizing the standard of women’s healthcare resulting an exodus of Ob/Gyn physicians) and in Alabama (giving embryos legal status resulting in the closure of in vitro fertilization clinics). Stand by to see Republicans trying to legislatively intrude on the private, end-of-life decisions of competent adults. So much for Republican claims to stand for “Freedom”. The “freedom” they endorse is freedom to impose their particular religious convictions on everyone else as a matter of law.

The Spokane County Republican Party has adopted an extremist platform. Voting for people who subscribe to this platform (“Prefers Republican”) is voting for a party that has gone off the rails. 

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. The process by which this new SpokaneGOP platform was adopted began with the Spokane County Republican Caucus on January 13 held at University High School in Spokane Valley. Theoretically, there were 451 tables, one for each voting precinct in Spokane County. Theoretically, each table would be guided by an elected Republican Precinct Committee Officer (PCO) presiding over a gathering of Republicans living in that precinct. Then those sitting at each precinct table would elect a delegate and an alternate to represent the precinct at the March 2 Spokane County Republican Party Convention. 

Since there are only 251 of the 451 precincts have an elected Republican Precinct Committee Officer (PCO) there are 200 precincts with no PCO to guide the process of electing the delegates in those precincts. We know from the reporting of Aaron Hedges of RANGEmedia that sitting around at least one precinct table was only the PCO of that precinct. It seems clear that many precinct delegates elected at the January 13th Caucus turned out to be the PCOs themselves. Whether anyone from a precinct that lacked a PCO came to be duly elected as a delegate from the Caucus to the March 2 Convention is unclear.

We know from Mr. Hedges that the Spokane GOP had planned on 1000 to 1500 delegates coming from the January 13 Caucus to the March 2 Convention. When only about 450 delegates advanced from the Caucus, the venue (and expense) for the Convention was shrunk down from the original, the County Fairgrounds, to the Spokane Valley Assembly of God Church (where the former chairman of the SpokaneGOP, Brian Noble, was at one time a pastor).

The purpose of the March 2 Republican County Convention (see Section 11.2.1 of the Bylaws, the party rules that govern all of this) was mainly twofold: to elect delegates to the Washington State Republican Convention (to be held April 18-20 in Spokane) and “for consideration of a Convention Platform and resolutions.” 

The delegates who advance to the State Republican Convention from all of the counties in the state will be winnowed down to 43 who will represent Washington State at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee in June.

What Happened to the WA Republican Greed Initiatives?

The one that’s important to its major backer will be on the November ballot

In a sustained effort over two years, a single über-wealthy hedge fund manager, Brian Heywood, a Republican transplant from California, founded the PAC “Let’s Go Washington.” He funded the PAC with six million dollars (pocket change for him?). (See under “Support” here). Let’s Go Washington paid signature gatherers (hardly a “grassroots volunteer” effort) to obtain certification for six Initiatives to the Legislature—all of which were filed with the Washington State Secretary of State by Republican Party Chair Jim Walsh.

Jet-fueled with six million dollars to pay signature gatherers, all six Initiatives to the Legislature qualified by the January 2024 deadline. As “initiatives to the legislature” the Washington State legislature is first given a chance to pass them without amendment. The State House and Senate passed three of the six. You can explore them: Initiative 2081,  Initiative 2111, and Initiative 2113

However, Mr. Heywood’s personal main squeeze, Initiative 2109, his attempt to repeal the Washington State capital gains excise tax, will appear on the November ballot (along with two others, 2117 and 2124—topics for another day). Initiative 2109 is guaranteed to generate a blur of misinformation as Republican’s try to convince average voters that this tax threatens their personal finances—and to obscure the fact that the tax is earmarked to help fund the public schools. 

Mr. Heywood’s spoken hope is to rejuvenate the Washington State Republican Party, a project he likens to building a corporation—but it is hard to miss the personal financial benefit to Mr. Heywood that passage of Initiative 2109 would bring.

For tax year 2023 the WA State capital gains excise tax only kicks in on capital gains that exceed $262,000. Capital gains above that amount are taxed at 7%. Worried about paying capital gains on the sale of the ancestral family farm or the family home? Don’t be. The sale of buildings and land (“real estate”) is exempt from the tax. So are capital gains made in retirement savings accounts. Who on earth makes more than $262,000 in capital gains in a year? Mostly such capital gains are made on paper from sales of stocks or bonds—and, even then, the tax only applies to gains that exceed $262,000 in any one year. Imagine the sort of wealth necessary to make yourself subject to this tax. In fact in 2022 the capital gains excise tax was triggered on only 3,765 returns. That represents roughly 1/5 of 1% of the population of the state—surely none of these folks endured an hardship as a result. (The average return would have reported $3,370,000 in capital gains over the $250,000 threshold to have generated the collections of $889M.)

The proceeds of this tax are earmarked for the benefit of public schools. This tax is the price some very wealthy people pay for the privilege and considerable benefits of living in the State of Washington and having an educated workforce. If Initiative 2109 doesn’t pass, some people like Mr. Heywood may pull up stakes and move to Texas or Florida to avoid paying. We ought to bid them a hearty farewell and tell them to be careful not to let the door hit them on their backsides as they leave.

After a career of making money by moving money around, Mr. Heywood knows his numbers. Surely he has calculated the annual savings he would achieve if his Let’s Go Washington investment of $6M pays off with a repeal. Sparing him the 7% tax on $9,000,000 in total capital gains each year for ten years would amortize it. For most of us it is unimaginable for an individual to clock $9,000,000 in taxable capital gains each year for ten years—but so is the idea of an individual owning, maintaining, and operating a private jet or a multi-million dollar yacht—and yet that’s reality for a growing number of the über-wealthy. These are big numbers, but, since this repeal would be a gift that keeps on giving, spread out not paying a 7% tax on large chunks of capital gains over ten or twenty or thirty years and the ROI (Return On Investment) eventually pencils out. 

Understand what the Washington State Capital Gains Excise Tax actually taxes. Understand what it pays for and understand who would benefit from its repeal. Talk it up with anyone who will listen. Don’t be fooled.

Keep to the ground,

P.S. For more information check out these prior posts:

The Republican Greed Initiatives and The Perversion of the Initiative Process

P.P.S. Local Republican writers conveniently downplay the outsized-role of Brian Heywood and his six million dollar investment when they discuss the six initiatives—and they never mention that all the signature gathering was accomplished with paid help, mercenaries, not grassroots volunteers. Eleanor Baumgartner of the right wing Washington Policy Center (and wife of U.S. Congressional hopeful and current Spokane County Treasurer Michael Baumgartner), takes the cake. She suggests in one of the apparently mandatory WPC Guest Opinions in the Spokesman that the “capital gains ‘excise’ tax” is one issue “most directly spiking costs for those trying to get by in harder times.” Really? There isn’t even a tenuous connection, much less a “direct” one. Pure Republican logic-twisting economic propaganda.