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Why liberalism is dead here: pandering and premature capitulation

What's the matter with Washington? An ex-legislator decries the way Democrats roll over without a fight, pass bogus budgets, and then claim Tim Eyman made them do it.

Former state Rep. Brendan Williams

Former state Rep. Brendan Williams

Tim Eyman, the Democrats' bête noire: You can only get away with blaming him for so long.

Tim Eyman, the Democrats' bête noire: You can only get away with blaming him for so long. KCTS-TV

The second special legislative session of 2011 brought a so-called “down payment” on our state’s systemic budget crisis, with no new taxes to cover it. The public may again be beguiled into believing we can escape harm through clever accounting. Now the interlude before the regular session allows us to take stock of how we got here. 

It must be Tim Eyman’s fault, right? When Democrats surrender, Eyman is the white flag that keeps on waving. What's happening in Olympia is not dissimilar to what's happened at the federal level, as Chris Lehmann notes in his book Rich People Things: “The Obama Administration defended its capitulation on the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy in the same fashion that all spineless Democrats have rationalized their giveaways to the privileged class since the age of Reagan: It claimed to be hostage to adverse political circumstance.”  

Funny how Republicans never let themselves be held hostage.

 

In blaming Tim Eyman, we ignore the facts. We can’t blame him for lost revenue from value-based car tabs, because a Democratic legislature and governor reinstated Eyman's Initiative 695 in 2000 after it was overturned in court. They did not allow any public hearings. It’s a testament to Washington’s culture of political permanency that 11 of the bill’s Senate sponsors are still serving 12 years later. Yet, ironically, the Democrat who was the bill’s prime senate sponsor was defeated for re-election eight months later.

A 1999 Associated Press article pegged I-695’s annual revenue loss at $750 million. With inflation, that lost revenue exceeds state budget cuts in the last couple years – and since then billions of dollars in additional tax breaks have been passed. 

That’s the problem with pandering. The cost is bigger than the payoff. 

Now, of course, we’re told that because of Tim Eyman the Legislature can’t restore money lost to its own past decisions. Initiative 1053 effectively bars legislators from unilaterally raising taxes by requiring a two-thirds vote, forcing the Legislature to go to voters through a referendum. 

But any legislative revenue increase might have been subjected to a repeal referendum effort anyway. In 2010, after a simple majority of the Legislature could, and did, raise taxes (though by too modest a degree), the regressive portion was subjected to a repeal initiative, I-1107.

Thus, I-1053 merely made it easier to obtain a public vote on any new taxes; it didn't make it more likely that someone would do so. Because a referendum only requires 120,577 signatures, I-1053 isn’t even much of a ballot shortcut. 

I-1053 forces legislators to communicate the necessity of obtaining revenue to preserve public services. In other words, it makes them provide leadership. Beyond a few exceptions, have you noticed any coming from them? 

In post-meltdown, pre-Tea Party 2009, had the Legislature given voters the choice to raise taxes, I’m confident they would have done so. In neighboring Oregon, voters affirmed a 2009 tax increase after big business subjected it to a repeal effort – and under the Oregon Constitution a legislative super-majority was required to raise taxes in the first place. 

Learned helplessness only prevails if you let it. But the most powerful force in Washington politics is inertia. We are victims of our own low expectations. We are the frog that slowly boils in the pot; after $10.5 billion in cuts, will we finally hop out?

On November 18 a Tea Party-backed balanced-budget amendment passed the U.S. House. It would have required — in I-1053-like fashion — a three-fifths vote to raise taxes beyond the current budget level. Jay Inslee was one just 25 Democrats to vote for it; 161 voted no.

You can’t blame Tim Eyman for I-1053 if your standard-bearer supports the same principle. And if it wasn't clear enough that our message is belied by our acts, the final proof is a redistricting that has overtly invited multimillionaire Democrats (i.e., the "1 percent") to run for our two open U.S. House seats

As politics devolve, politicians devolve too. Thus, the all-cuts Rossi/Locke budget of 2003 now appears to have been a watershed moment. Then, 43 legislative Democrats voted against it. This year, amidst all the bipartisan froth for an all-cuts biennial budget largely dictated by Senate Republicans, only 2 Democrats voted no. 


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Jan 3, 6:40 a.m. Inappropriate

Some progressives live in a theoretical world. This is especially true of some progressive politicians who don't ever see how their policies play out in the real world. Here are some observations about a couple of social service programs that are the centerpiece of Olympia's progressive policies:

The Disability Lifeline: while the program undoubtedly helps many worthy people, the only two people I've ever met in the program were both healthy men in their 30's who didn't like to get up in the morning. They sold drugs, stole from other drug sellers, had multiple arrests, and one of them worked for cash that was never reported to any authority.

The Basic Health Plan: A friend discussed two of her friends who got on the plan while going through tough times then stayed on the plan after they were no longer eligible and had other affordable health insurance options that were more expensive than the state's plan. No one ever asked them whether they were still eligible so they continued to participate.

The only reason that three of these folks are no longer participating in those programs is that money became tight and the program eligibility became much more important so folks started checking.

Governance is tricky business. You want to help the folks who need help when and only when they actually need it. Otherwise you set up a society in which healthy, capable adults feel entitled to become clients of the community instead of contributors to it.

Posted Tue, Jan 3, 7 a.m. Inappropriate

It sure sounds like Brendan Williams made a wise decision deciding to quit, if you believe bio at the end of the whine he obviously felt he cound not be a "Progressive leader" in the house without someone else being a leader.

"Olympia attorney Brendan Williams served in the Washington House of Representatives from 2005-11. In 2008 he announced he would not seek a fourth term due to the lack of progressive leadership."

Please take your ball and go home Brendan. Somehow I think these constant writings are an effort to remain relevant until he runs for the new 10th Congressional district position.

Cameron

Posted Tue, Jan 3, 7:58 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks, Brendan, good column. Refreshing to read someone telling it like it is.

mbrenman

Posted Tue, Jan 3, 8:55 a.m. Inappropriate

Rather than fight from within the system and actually particpate in the process, Mr. Williams quits and complains about not getting his way...typical. Funny how he doesn't have any problem maintaining his full time State Manager Position, perhaps he would consider quitting in protest in that position as well.

Cameron

Posted Tue, Jan 3, 10:22 a.m. Inappropriate

Mr. Williams can rationalize the DemocRats' betrayal of the 99 Percent however he choses, but the financial facts remain unchanged: based on who gets the big bucks from Wall Street and Big Business generally, D-Rats and GOPorkers are each wholly owned subsidiaries of the One Percent.

To expect such harlots to ameliorate their harlotry in the name of humanitarianism is like expecting their capitalist masters to abandon greed: absurd. That's why the American Dream and the American experiment in constitutional democracy are dead beyond resurrection.

That's also why -- thanks to both parties, their Patriot Act and their National Defense Authorization Act -- all too soon the only places We the People will be allowed to Occupy are concentration camps.

The same fate now awaits any politicians who dare dissent: http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/275-42/9236-focus-naomi-wolf-ndaa-congress-signed-its-own-arrest-warrants

As it says in an old Scots ballad of rebellion: "Such a parcel of rogues rule the nation."

Posted Tue, Jan 3, 10:27 a.m. Inappropriate

To crankyoldlady,

I am a progressive and I do not live in a theoretical world. Nor have I ever been a drug abuser or seller who resisted getting up in the morning. And yet, I have used the Disability Lifeline program twice.

Both times I used it, I suffered serious injuries during periods when I was employed in the hospitality industry where health insurance is rarely available and I did not have at the time of either injury. My injuries were not work-related. Disability Lifeline indeed provided a lifeline while I healed from both injuries. It wasn't a lot of money, or even enough, but it helped me survive and I will support keeping it. Of course, I was not chronically disabled so both times I left the program when able to return to work.

Also while employed in hospitality, I was fortunate enough to qualify for the Basic Health Program. I can't account for what folks told you about being able to remain on it without any need to recertify. My experience was quite different. I was required to and did provide eligibility information at regular intervals, and when I no longer qualified financially I was dropped from the program.

My experiences were more than 10 years ago so maybe at this point, given the decimation of public employee numbers in obeisance to tea partiers and their ilk, there are insufficient numbers of public employees to police these programs.

There really are two sides to every story. I am the other side of the stories you recount.

mspat

Posted Tue, Jan 3, 10:39 a.m. Inappropriate

mspat, I'm glad the programs were there to help you. They provide a tiny bit of the assistance folks sometimes need. My stories happened between 2004 and 2009. I suspect the experiences of clients in those programs is much different today.

Posted Tue, Jan 3, 11:40 a.m. Inappropriate

The author seems to be railing against the taxpayers of Washington themselves. He words his argument as if he is defending a sympathetic endangered class against a greedy usurper, but in point of fact his "enemy" is the people of this state who bridle at the thought of ever higher taxes going to ever more esoteric programs while core state functions such as education (third on his list of priorities) go wanting.

When the people become a force for government to overcome, we're entering very dangerous territory.

dbreneman

Posted Tue, Jan 3, 12:03 p.m. Inappropriate

I hope we hear more from Mr. Williams.

Posted Tue, Jan 3, 12:41 p.m. Inappropriate

If he's so concerned about leadership, why did he quit?

TaylorB1

Posted Tue, Jan 3, 9:14 p.m. Inappropriate

Brendan Williams represents what all true liberals are feeling these days: we haven't abandoned the Democratic Party, it's the Democratic Party that's abandoning what were its core principals and us with it.

I have far more respect for people like Brendan who stick with their core beliefs rather than simply play the game of go-along-to-get along.

Naysayers can belittle such integrity - to some of us, it's a welcomed sound from a public political figure.

Posted Wed, Jan 4, 7:23 a.m. Inappropriate

To David Smith: Wikipedia continues its definition of liberal by defining a "classic liberal". "Liberals in the 19th century wanted to develop a world free from government intervention, or at least free from too much government intervention. They championed the ideal of negative liberty, which constitutes the absence of coercion and the absence of external constraints.[27] They believed governments were cumbersome burdens and they wanted governments to stay out of the lives of individuals.[28] Liberals simultaneously pushed for the expansion of civil rights and for the expansion of free markets and free trade."

So is the classic liberal of yesterday, today's centerline roadkill? Sure sounds like the definition of today's Independents. Ironic that.

Posted Wed, Jan 4, 9:19 a.m. Inappropriate

Here is a link to Journalist Chris Hedges were he actually makes his case:

http://youtu.be/7zotYU21qcU

Posted Wed, Jan 4, 1:13 p.m. Inappropriate

The word "libertarian" was coined because "liberal" had become so debased.

dbreneman

Posted Wed, Jan 4, 5:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Some conservatives live in a theoretical world. This is especially true of some conservative politicians who don't ever see how their policies play out in the real world. Here are some observations about a couple of conservative programs that are the centerpiece of conservative policies:

Tax Exemptions: A huge multinational software corporation got a tax break while it was starting up, and has fought tooth, nail, and big lobbying bucks to keep the subsidy, even though it is now one of the largest corporations in the world and has billions of dollars in cash reserves. Whenever anyone asks if they should still have this tax break, they roll out their political muscle and make sure that the tax burden from their dodge is passed onto small business and property owners.

The Lack of a Progressive State Income Tax: while the lack of a state income tax undoubtedly helps many rich people who are personally nice, I've met rich people who were really nasty SOBs and positively reveled in sticking it to the poor and middle class. None of them would have any trouble making their rent, buying groceries, or paying their utility bills even if they paid a heft state income tax.

Governance is tricky business. You want to help the businesses and the rich who need help when and only when they actually need it. Otherwise you set up a society in which healthy, capable businesses and the rich feel entitled to become clients of the community instead of contributors to it.

Steve E.

Posted Wed, Jan 4, 10:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Thnaks crankyoldlady!

"The word “univocal” refers to words that have one and only one meaning. I’m not aware that the word has any alternative meanings (although it would be wonderfully ironic if it did). “Keynesianism” for sure is not a univocal term and, like all non-univocal words, there can be a great deal of confusion when the word is used in conversation, especially when we’re discussing whether Keynes was “correct”. Indeed, one of the biggest flaws of Western social sciences is, in my opinion, the failure to define what we mean."

http://www.synthesisips.net/blog/keynesianism-keynesianism-and-keynesianism/

afreeman

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