As Dino Rossi continues to maintain his silence on Initiative 912, the message-sending, KVI publicity stunt cum ballot measure is beginning to expose deep rifts in the WA state Republican Party.
Prominent Republicans from the business community, including Western Wireless Chief Executive John Stanton, have contributed mightily to the campaign to preserve the tax.
They hope to draw a distinction between themselves and the more conservative anti-tax base and help diffuse the partisan politics behind the support for the initiative.
Mainstream Republicans of Washington, a group of moderates, has endorsed the No on 912 campaign and is spending about $80,000 (most of it from Stanton) for direct mail opposing the initiative.
“Republicans have a long history of defending user taxes and particularly the gas tax,” said Mainstream Republicans Executive Director Alex Hays. “The gas tax is constitutionally required to fund roads and ferries. Taxes don’t get much fairer than that. You drive on the roads, you use gas, and therefore you pay for the roads.”
Hays said virtually every Republican to hold statewide office has come out of the mainstream movement. Mainstream members include Stanton, Secretary of State Sam Reed, Attorney General Rob McKenna, Commissioner of Lands Doug Sutherland and Senate Minority Leader Bill Finkbeiner.
Rossi should take note. Stanton, who has contributed over $100,000 to the No on 912 campaign, has often been mentioned as a possible candidate for governor or other high office, and while at this point in time it would be surprising to see any Republican seriously challenge Rossi for the 2008 nomination, the Sammamish real estate salesman cannot take for granted the enthusiastic support of business leaders, particularly a potential rival like Stanton who clearly disagrees with Rossi on substantive policy issues.
Of course, Rossi ran very well in 2004, pretending to be a mainstream Republican, but as he’s proven with his conspicuous silence on I-912, Mainstream Republicans in the business community and elsewhere really can’t count on him to support their agenda. If three years from now the state and regional economy is strong, and business leaders are largely satisfied with Gov. Christine Gregoire’s job performance, they will open their wallets less widely to support a challenger who has failed to support them in return.
“For a lot of the politicians, this is a vote (the public vote on 912) that they realize is best argued on the merits rather than turned into a partisan issue,” Stanton said. “I was on a podium with John Carlson,” the radio talk show host and I-912 supporter, “and he talked about sending a message. This is not about sending a message,” Stanton said.
“Or if it is, it’s about sending a message that transportation’s important.
And don’t think that Stanton and other business leaders haven’t been shy about sending a message of their own. That a lowly blogger like me should receive an earnest phone call from “Executive X” was a subtle message in itself. Less subtle was his questioning of whether Rossi “fully appreciates the political ramifications” of his failure to speak out against I-912. More recently, the Seattle P-I reported that Boeing would be diverting money away from the parties and giving it directly to those individual legislators who voted for the gas tax increase… implying that those opposing the tax should expect zilch. As the P-I editorial board wrote:
The state Republican Party backs I-912. Boeing opposes it. All but the most clueless of Republican candidates will get the message.
Is Rossi really that clueless?
I suppose it is possible that Rossi really does oppose the transportation package, and believes that we can afford to continue to delay maintenance and improvement projects… that he’s so deeply entrenched in the reactionary, anti-tax wing of the GOP that he’s willing to dismiss the fervent opposition to I-912 from the businesses and wealthy executives who financed his last campaign. If that’s true, he should just come out and take a principled stand.
Or perhaps Rossi quietly agrees with Stanton, but is willing to sacrifice the economic welfare of the state as part of a political gambit he hopes will weaken Gregoire for 2008? If that is the game he is playing, he should understand that even “winning” doesn’t come without risks. Assuming she governs well, Gregoire’s approval ratings will continue to climb, the further removed we are from the GOP’s viciously dishonest — yet effective — election contest PR campaign. And Gregoire won’t sleepwalk through a rematch the way she did the 2004 election: 2008 is going to be a meaner, more energetic, more costly campaign, and if Rossi expects to be competitive, he’ll need business leaders to continue to cut the big checks that he and his fellow Republicans have come to take for granted.
But my guess is, before they open their checkbooks again, some of these executives are going to look back at the I-912 campaign and ask: “Where was Rossi?”
Dino’s got a few more days to answer the question.