After a month of trying to figure out where Democratic Governor Christine Gregoire stands on I-912—the devastating gas-tax repeal that could overturn the main accomplishment of her first legislative session (much-needed transportation funding)—her office finally gave me a quote. Of course, before getting that quote, I had to overcome Gregoire spokeswoman Kerry Coughlin's evasive attempt to protect her boss politically. (She told me, inaccurately, that the governor wasn't allowed to weigh in.) But last week, after I showed Coughlin the state guidelines that explicitly say the governor is allowed to comment on state initiatives, Coughlin sent me the following statement: "She has consistently been opposed to the initiative to repeal the gas tax passed by the Legislature in 2005 to fund transportation projects vital to Washington State."
That's not exactly true. Gregoire had not specifically spoken out against I-912 prior to my inquiry. And while this new statement, which names neither Gregoire nor I-912, is about as straightforward as those old cigarette-package warnings ("Not stopping smoking now greatly increases serious risks to your health"), I guess it's as close to a denunciation of I-912 as Gregoire's office—not Gregoire herself, by the way—is willing to give.
But if Gregoire's silence to date is her office's idea of "consistent opposition," I'm not about to get my hopes up that Gregoire will take to the bully pulpit against I-912 anytime soon. Instead, I guess, she's going to be intimidated by preliminary polling on the gas tax.
I hate to sound so bitter, but Gregoire's decision to shy away from the bipartisan gas-tax increase that she fought for and passed last spring just confirms Bush-era conventional wisdom that Democrats don't stand up for their convictions. It's also shortsighted.
With environmental groups like Transportation Choices and FutureWise ready to campaign against I-912, you'd think Gregoire would have a clue. In 2002, the enviro base, led by Transportation Choices and FutureWise, organized against another proposed gas tax, R-51, because it was about building new roads rather than prioritizing repair and maintenance and HOV lanes. The enviros helped kill R-51 in liberal King County (turf that's usually supportive of tax increases for public projects), where it got walloped 53 to 46.
I'm thinking that this time, with the enviro left working for the tax increase rather than siphoning off the mass of liberal votes in King County, I-912 could go down to an unexpected defeat. Peter Hurley, executive director of Transportation Choices, points out that adding his base to the business and labor constituencies would form a potent grassroots bloc. Hurley also points out that his group stands as the only group to whack down a statewide reactionary transportation-funding initiative—Tim Eyman's 90-percent-for-roads initiative, I-745, in 2000. "There's actually a good chance of winning on I-912," Hurley says. (His group crushed I-745 66 to 33 in King County and 60 to 40 statewide.) If only Democratic "leaders" like Gregoire would look to their base, rather than over their shoulders.