Tim Eyman campaigns for I-976 in downtown Bellevue on the afternoon of Nov. 5. Voters passed the initiative, setting car tabs at $30 statewide with opponents warning it would bankrupt transit projects throughout the state. FILE PHOTO, Aaron Kunkler

Tim Eyman campaigns for I-976 in downtown Bellevue on the afternoon of Nov. 5. Voters passed the initiative, setting car tabs at $30 statewide with opponents warning it would bankrupt transit projects throughout the state. FILE PHOTO, Aaron Kunkler

Initiative impresario, political provocateur — and governor?

Tim Eyman’s candidacy will settle whether voters like him as much as they like his tax-cutting ideas.

  • Wednesday, November 27, 2019 12:52pm
  • Opinion

OLYMPIA — We knew it would happen.

It’s a wonder it took this long.

Tim Eyman, the initiative impressario, political provacateur and human heartburn for a generation, is running for governor.

With passage of Initiative 976 and the ensuing legal fight it’s triggered, he somehow got it into his head that it isn’t just the idea of lower car tabs and taxes voters want, it is him as well. In the seat of power as the state’s chief executive.

One can understand where he might get such an idea. Some very sharp people, armed with a stack of polling data, decided a thrust of their $5 million “No on 976” campaign should be making sure voters knew Eyman sponsored the ballot creation.

They said those surveys found that among voters who said they knew Eyman, more didn’t have a favorable attitude toward him than did.

For example, in February, a combined 27 percent said they had a “somewhat” or “very” favorable opinion of him while 41 percent had a “somewhat” or “very” unfavorable view. Another 32 percent didn’t know him or had no opinion. In July, his favorables were the same, his unfavorables declined to 35 percent with 38 percent not offering an opinion.

Opponents sought to capitalize on his negatives. The strategy failed.

So let’s settle whether Washington voters think as highly of him as they do his initiatives. And if truly the best poll is on election day, Eyman must be in it by way of the ballot.

In other words: Run Tim run. Don’t back out even when you realize stealing the governor’s chair will be harder than that one at Office Depot because it doesn’t have wheels.

His entry as an independent spices up the 2020 gubernatorial campaign. Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who is seeking a third term, a pack of Republicans already in the race, and leaders of both state political parties will need a response.

It won’t be easy as the man from Bellevue by way of Mukilteo will mock them and their campaigning conventions unceasingly.

Inslee could actually get a boost in fundraising now that he has an opponent with such a reputation. But in the coming months, the governor should expect to be pushed to defend his policy initiatives to a greater degree than he’s been accustomed.

Eyman will make lower taxes and less government spending a cornerstone of his campaign vitriol. It’s a simple pitch. Inslee and ruling Democrats in the Legislature want to talk about a capital gains tax, clean fuel standards and increasing the state’s investments in health care, mental health and education. It’s going to a challenging sell in an election year.

His presence will test the organizing moxie of the state Democratic Party and its base. In 2019, they effectively failed as I-976 passed and a measure to bring back affirmative was defeated. They have history on their side in 2020. Presidential elections bring out a bluer crop of voters in this state. And Democrats have held the governor’s seat for four decades. It will take work to keep that streak alive.

For the Republican Party, the race got a lot more complicated the last few days.

Eyman appeals to many Republicans. He could get their votes and emerge from the primary. Leaders of the Grand Old Party don’t really want him to be their standard bearer yet it’s likely the GOP will be freighted with his baggage should he somehow advance next August.

There is a looming wild card. Eyman is slated to go on trial in July on accusations he secretly moved money among initiative campaigns and got kickbacks that he didn’t disclose to allies, benefactors and state election watchdogs.

It’ll be more entertaining than an impeachment inquiry with the potential to impact the August primary directly.

If Eyman goes through with this and loses, it won’t end his political career. He won’t disappear.

He’s probably already crafting a fund-raising email to send his “thousands of supporters” on election day.

We know that will happen. It always does.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos


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