Why the Dems are losing seats (and why Tim Eyman is half correct)

I went door-knocking in Federal Way yesterday for Carol Gregory’s campaign in the 30th LD.  Currently, the Democrats have a 51 to 47 seat majority in the Washington State House.   If Gregory loses, the ratio will become 50 to 48, meaning that if another seat is lost, the ratio would be 49 to 49 and the Dems would lose the majority.

In 2012, the Republicans took over control of the Washington State Senate by forming the Majority Coalition.

The shift to Republican control of state legislatures is a nationwide phenomenon. In 1990, Democrats controlled both houses in 30 out of the 50 state legislatures; by 2015, Republicans controlled both houses in 31 out of 50 states. (source) Similarly, in 1990 28 states had Democratic governors, with 20 Republicans and 2 independents. In 2015, 31 states had Republican governors, with 18 Democrats and 1 independent.

The precinct I walked in the 30th LD was in a nice, upper-middle class section of Federal Way, with large, well-maintained homes and quiet streets. People definitely depend a lot on their cars there.

The walk sheets the campaign gave us were supposed to target just strong Dems, but there were some independents and even Republican-leaning (“LR”) citizens included.

Among the people who were home, over half didn’t express their political preferences. About one out of four said they’d vote for Gregory. Maybe one out of five said they’d support Hickel. Nobody was rude, but few people were happy to see me. Most people don’t want to be bothered.

At one of the houses, I found a soggy, abandoned brochure from the campaign of Gregory’s Republican opponent, Teri Hickel. On the back there was a list comparing Hickel and Gregory on issues and endorsements. Here are three of the entries:

Issue Teri Hickel Carol Gregory
Supports $1.5 billion in new spending to [sic] even though there are over$3 [sic] billion in new tax collections with an improving economy (HB 1106, 2015) No Yes
Heavily supported by California billionaire who has an extreme agenda for Washington State No Yes
Votes over 90% of the time with Democrats from downtown Seattle who won’t compromise on key issues
(2015 Washington Legislative Session)
No Yes

Such negative, anti-tax, anti-Seattle campaigning works.  And it’s no wonder.

People are sick of paying high, regressive taxes.   They’re sick of politicians giving tax breaks to rich corporations. They’re suspicious of politicians and of government.  People love their cars and the independence and mobility that cars give them, and so they’re suspicious of environmental regulations that limit car use.

People are correct to be angry at paying high taxes: our regressive tax system unfairly burdens the poor and the middle class, while favoring rich corporations and individuals by granting them loopholes, write-offs, and lax enforcement of rules against tax evasion. The unfairness is especially severe in Washington State, which relies on the regressive sales tax to fund most of state government. Even the Business and Occupation (B & O) Tax is regressive, since it taxes revenue, not profits, and so favors rich corporations like Microsoft. Furthermore, Boeing and Microsoft are given billions of dollars in tax breaks — and not just by Republicans.

So, it’s no wonder the voters are angry.

But when given the chance, in 2010, to pass a more progressive income tax, with initiative I-1098, almost two out of three voters rejected it.

This is, plainly, irrational. But, as has been widely suggested, the problem is that the voters don’t trust the politicians when they say that the taxes will target only the rich. The voters know they’re getting shafted, but they figure that the safest bet is to keep taxes low. That way, they’ll be less likely to be ripped off.

Another factor is that the sales tax is automatically deducted at the cash register, so people are “nickeled and dimed” –  and that’s largely invisible. But an income tax requires additional paperwork and a large lump payment when paying the tax bill or when paying estimated state income taxes.

A fundamental problem is that the national GOP made sure that government works poorly for the middle class. Republicans mismanaged and corrupted government, wasted trillions of dollars on disastrous wars, and cut taxes for the rich.  So the voters are correct to mistrust government.

But until and unless Democrats loudly explain to the voters how our regressive tax system is harming them, and  until and unless the Democrats stop serving the interests of Boeing and Microsoft, Democrats will continue to lose seats, and government will continue to be dysfunctional.

Tim Eyman is half correct

So, I say: Tim Eyman is half correct. The sales tax is too high (though I will certainly vote against I-1366, which even the Seattle Times opposes).   We should lower the sales tax by several percent and institute a progressive income tax that fixes our broken, unfair, upside-down tax system.  Progressive taxes would help the middle class, the poor, and the Democratic Party.

But for the most part, the Democratic Party runs away from the issue and allows the Republicans to control the messaging on taxation. Until the Dems face up to the issue, they’ll continue losing.

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