Washington: Tea Party limbo #2

  • "Mallard Fillmore" used with the permission of Bruce Tinsley, King Features and the Cartoonist Group. License 2010-312.

Washington is a coffee-drinking state; Starbucks is only one of the many java peddlers rooted in Seattle. Tea, however, at least of the political sort, is not catching on. So the fact that some of this year's races appear to be ramped up on caffeine can probably be blamed on roasted, ground-up beans.

Like all incumbent Democrats -- especially those aligned with party leadership -- three-term Sen. Patty Murray is vulnerable this year. Seeing an opening, Republican Dino Rossi, who's campaigned unsuccessfully for governor in the past, jumped into the race. He was joined by more than a dozen candidates -- including Mike the Mover and Goodspaceguy Nelson -- in the state's "jungle primary," in which all the candidates, no matter what party, run against one another, with the top two vote getters going on to the general election.

Rossi not only didn't pursue the Tea Party vote, he seemed keen to evade it altogether. He was conspicuously absent from many Tea Party events and ignored demands to alter his stances on some issues. The Tea Party -- and Sarah Palin -- responded by endorsing another Republican, Chris Didier. Nevertheless, Rossi clobbered Didier. It's a brilliant strategy: Rossi, who is quite conservative, was able to make himself look more moderate by snubbing the extremists and yet win his party's nomination. Now, as Tea Party candidates like Nevada's Sharron Angle struggle to moderate their extreme primary-era positions, Rossi doesn't need to. Meanwhile, the Tea Party really has no choice but to endorse him in the general election; Washington law prohibits any primary candidates from waging a write-in campaign.

Obama sighting The Murray-Rossi race is in the national spotlight. The Republicans need a Rossi win to take control of the Senate. That's why Obama visited the state to campaign for Murray. Polls show a tight race, with Murray leading.

A flurry of tax measures Also attracting a lot of out-of-state money and attention are Washington's tax-related ballot initiatives. Perennial anti-tax crusader Tim Eyman is pushing I-1053, which "would require a two-thirds vote in the state Legislature to raise any user fee or revenue from any source, for any purpose, in any amount, no matter how large or small. Forever," Democratic legislator Reuven Carlyle warned in the Seattle Times. Oil companies fancy I-1053 and are pumping noticeable money into the campaign.

Meanwhile, I-1107 would repeal a temporary tax on bottled water, candy, soda and processed food. The American Beverage Association has spent more than $14 million on the I-1107 campaign because Washington's tax is seen as a potential template for the nation.

And pro-tax crusaders want the state -- which currently does not have its own income tax -- to emulate its neighbor to the south by passing I-1098, which would impose a Robin Hoodesque new tax on individuals who make more than $200,000 per year or couples that make more than $400,000. Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates has donated a half-million dollars in favor of this tax, while John Nordstrom of Nordstrom department-store fame is helping finance the campaign against it. If the tax-the-rich initiative passes, it will be further evidence that tea is not the Northwest's beverage of choice.

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