This post comments on vote totals as of 11 AM on November 7.
I-1631 failed. That’s a blow in the political fight against climate change. It doesn’t have to be a fatal one.
I-1631 gained a larger Yes margin than I-732, as of this morning. That’s remarkable, considering the amount of resources oil companies burned to defeat I-1631: the Yes campaign was outspent by about 2:1, as of today. I-732 did not face a coordinated No campaign. Given the stiffer opposition, any gains have to be considered a positive.
The gain is encouraging because I-1631 was a new concept: it engaged directly with the pocketbook and social justice issues that result from economic transition away from the fossil fuel economy. Explaining those issues, especially the pocketbook issues, will take time. “Green collar economics” isn’t new, but it also hasn’t caught fire. Making it a popular, winning issue will take further time, activism, and influence. Making a negative, status-quo case based on rising gas prices and bureaucratic overreach is much easier.
So it’s heartening that in the movement-building context, I-1631 presents some political gains. I-1631 engaged and activated a liberal base coalition that climate and environmental groups have struggled to work with in the past, such as activists of color and organized labor.
But a loss is a loss. I-1631 was, from the start, a tough fit for Washington, considering the state’s hostility to taxation. As of 11 AM on November 7, I-1634, the food and beverage tax ban, is passing at a similar margin to I-1631’s failure. It’s part of a long history: a recent high-earners income tax was DOA at the ballot box. State schools remain underfunded. Tim Eyman has had a long career. Washington does not like taxes (though not for no reason.) That’s old news for anyone who watches state politics.
So’s this: Washington was unable to make significant a progressive change because its liberal and progressive elected leadership lacks the necessary whatever—courage, wherewithal, organization—to take it to the house. In this case, the stymied change is the failure of Governor Jay Inslee and the Democratic legislature to make any progress on a climate change bill, despite multiple attempts.
You could write the same thing about public schools, gun control, an income tax, criminal justice reform, legalizing cannabis, or public transportation. Those are all issues that should be addressed by the legislature, but at best wind up at the ballot box.
Governor Inslee has long made the environment and climate change his signature issue, and his inability to shepherd a climate change bill through the legislature is an indictment of his leadership and effectiveness. He’s had more than one term—and a session with his party in control of both chambers—to take climate action, but didn’t.
Democrats seem likely to expand their majorities in the legislature. Maybe they will use them to take a bold step against climate change. If history is any guide, they won’t.