Vying for governor, Bill Bryant seeks to expand his brand

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The first job for Bill Bryant, the only declared GOP gubernatorial candidate so far, is to tell Washingtonians that he exists.

As a Port of Seattle commissioner, Bryant is well known in Westside business and industrial circles, and better known in Eastern Washington’s agricultural world. It’s everyone else that needs an introduction, he says, if he’s to convince them he’s their choice in the 2016 gubernatorial election. By his own estimates, he has a ways to go. He figures that maybe 25 percent of Western Washington voters have heard of him, and possibly 35 percent of Eastern Washingtonians.

Although he has not publicly discussed the matter, Gov. Jay Inslee will likely be the Democratic candidate seeking a second term. On the Republican side, the name of Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, has been tossed around as a potential GOP candidate. But Hill, the Senate Republicans’ budget writer, has not yet publicly said whether he will run.

So far, Bryant has already raised $422,270 in campaign donations, with a healthy dose coming from agricultural businesses. Inslee has $1.4 million in his campaign war chest so far. In 2012, Inslee raised $12.3 million in his successful campaign, and his competitor Republican Rob McKenna raised $13.8 million.

Bryant, 55, was born in the Lewis County village of Morton and grew up on the Olympic Peninsula before earning a bachelor’s degree from the foreign service school at Georgetown University. In 1992, the Seattle resident started Bryant Christie, a firm that markets agricultural projects overseas. He has been a Port of Seattle commissioner since 2008, and has served the commission’s president.

Asked why he’s running, Bryant zeroed in on Inslee as the top reason — criticizing the governor’s leadership on the 2015 legislative budget negotiations, on education, and on climate change. Why would Bryant be a better choice? “I’m willing to jeopardize my second term to get things done,” he says.

Bryant blamed Inslee for the recent 178-day legislative sessions, the longest in Washington history. Inslee should have consulted more with legislative leaders in the months prior to the session, he argues. He contends the governor should have resolved budget negotiations in April, and that proposed new taxes and tax break closures are not well-researched.

By contrast, Bryant claims he could get Republicans and Democrats within compromise distance of each other at the beginning of a legislative session in January.

This year Inslee and Democrats called for over $1 billion in additional revenue, in the form of a new capital gains tax, taxes on smoking, the closure of several tax breaks, and an increase in one of the business-and-occupation taxes. The Senate Republicans originally opposed any tax increases and tax break closures.

Inslee also proposed taxing carbon emissions from Washington’s top polluters to raise $4.8 billion over 12 years — with the money going to transportation projects and education improvements. Inslee originally proposed this as a way to avoid a gasoline tax increase. The carbon emissions tax polled well among Washingtonians.

Nonetheless, Republicans and Democrats eventually voted to raise the gasoline tax by 11.9 cents over the next two years. The carbon emissions tax stalled.

Bryant is unenthusiastic about both a capital gains tax and a carbon emissions tax. And he is undecided about how to approach dealing with a four-year, $3.5 billion revenue increase needed to overhaul state and local property tax systems. That overhaul’s purpose is to nail a down a steady revenue source for schools, as required by the Washington Supreme Court in 2012.

“As I have moved around the state, there is very little appetite for new taxes,” he said.

On the topic of education, Bryant says the state school system needs more overhauling than ordered by the Supreme Court, which ruled to increase education funding and reduce teacher-student ratios in grades K-3.

In particular, he believes a new approach is needed for non-college-bound students, contending the junior and senior years for those students should stress work internships, apprenticeships and access to technical school training. “Employers can’t get the workforce that they need,” he said.

Bryan also supports a longer school year, including a potential year-round approach for the upper grades. He also believes that principals should have more control over the resources available to their schools, and should be trained for such extra responsibilities.

Bryant also claims the ecological health of Puget Sound would be a priority in his administration.

Bryant is a founding member of the Nisqually River Foundation, which is heavily involved in restoration and preservation projects on the Nisqually River. The foundation participated in efforts to remove the Brown Farm Dike in 2009, restoring water to much of the delta leading into Puget Sound. As a port commissioner, Bryant says he was a factor in SeaTac Airport dramatically reducing stormwater runoff reaching Puget Sound with various measures.

His campaign will stress ideas to improve the quality of the rivers and streams flowing into Puget Sound, including industries improving their stormwater runoff measures.

“On my bucket list is making Puget Sound better than it was before,” he said.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at johnstang_8@hotmail.com and on Twitter at @johnstang_8