John Braun: Washington voters rise up again, this time with I-2066


A 1789 letter from Thomas Jefferson to Richard Price, a Welsh minister who had been very supportive of the American revolution, included this line:

"Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights."

What a year this has been for the people of Washington to set things to rights.

Three of the six citizen initiatives certified earlier this year became law a month ago. Initiative 2113 fully restored the ability of police to pursue suspected criminals, I-2111 banned income taxes at any level of government in our state, and I-2081 expanded and confirmed the rights of parents to learn what’s going on in their children’s schools.

The remaining three initiatives will appear on the November ballot. Initiative 2117 will repeal the cap-and-tax law that has driven up the cost of gasoline and natural gas, I-2019 will repeal the tax on capital-gains income, and I-2124 will end the mandatory payroll tax that supports a government-run (and financially struggling) long-term care program.

Now, there is every reason to expect voters will get to decide on a fourth initiative this year: Initiative 2066, to repeal the new Democratic law aimed at ending access to natural gas for heating and cooking.

I-2066 was filed with the secretary of state on April 5. Supporters had until July 5 to turn in enough voter signatures to add the measure to the ballot.

While the final count of verified signatures is still to be determined, Let’s Go Washington figured that in less than 50 days, close to 500,000 voters signed petitions in support of I-2066.

If true, that would be stunning — as it would be even more signatures than what we saw for any of the six initiatives submitted ahead of this year’s legislative session.

Let’s zoom out for a moment and look at how I-2066 is different.

The three initiatives already passed are important for the safety of our communities, the education of our children and the protection of taxpayers.

The three already headed to the ballot are even better for taxpayers, as they will put money back in people’s pockets by ending taxes or reducing energy costs.

The target of I-2066 is the law created this year by House Bill 1589. That partisan policy creates a path for Puget Sound Energy (PSE), our state’s largest monopoly utility, to start cutting access to natural gas.

HB 1589 was such a badly written piece of legislation that even the lieutenant governor, a Democrat, called it a “hot mess” when the bill came before the state Senate.

Republicans in both houses of the Legislature fought the passage of the bill tooth and nail, but our Democratic colleagues rammed it through anyway.

One of those Democrats is state Sen. Emily Randall, from Kitsap County. When her power went out during a cold snap early this year, she took to social media to celebrate her access to natural-gas heat. But Randall is running for a seat in Congress this year, so when it was time to vote on HB 1589, she too pandered to the climatistas.

For PSE, which has around 900,000 natural-gas customers in Washington and even more electric-power customers, the law is a gift from Democrats.

It’s a win because it helps the utility get around the costly carbon regulations in the cap-and-tax law, without losing customers.

Republicans favor an all-of-the-above strategy when it comes to home energy. That means augmenting traditional energy sources with new technology like green hydrogen and small modular nuclear, both of which would mean less carbon.

Democrats like Governor Inslee and gubernatorial candidate Bob Ferguson won’t admit they want to ban natural gas — but the HB 1589 law acts as a ban by reducing access, neighborhood by neighborhood.

For the hundreds of thousands of PSE natural-gas customers, the law is a huge loss. It would  eventually force them to electrify their homes, at a personal cost of up to $70,000 apiece.

In that sense, I-2066 is clearly about affordability — but I see something more.

People have had it with losing their freedoms to extremist ideology. They are tired of being bombarded by the zealots who treat the climate like it’s a religion.

They know technology has shown we can have both carbon reductions and lower energy costs – the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

While Inslee has sought to curtail natural-gas usage by blatantly changing the state’s energy code, on top of advocating for the cap-and-tax policy, Ferguson has been a little more subtle.

As attorney general, he does things like file motions against the expansion of a gas pipeline through our state, saying the plan would “hurt Washingtonians.” 

Ferguson also is responsible for why PSE’s natural-gas customers don’t see the cost of the cap-and-tax policy reflected on their billing statements.

PSE wanted to share that information, but the Utilities and Transportation Commission — on Ferguson’s advice — said no, that would be too confusing.

Think about that for a moment. Ferguson, who as attorney general is in charge of consumer protection, forced a utility to hide important information from consumers.

Other utilities weren’t bound by the gag on PSE, which is how we know the $10,421 bill received by the Washougal School District in January from its natural-gas provider included $2,282 — or 22% — listed as a “WA Climate Act” fee.

Speaking of schools, the Democrats’ ban on natural gas won’t force only homeowners to pay tens of thousands of dollars to replace gas appliances with electric versions. Think of all the public buildings that will have to do the same, at taxpayer expense.

No wonder Let’s Go Washington was able to collect so many signatures so quickly. The taxpayers see the writing on the wall. It’s in red ink, and they don’t like it.

They are rising up like never before, using the power granted to them in our state constitution to make and reject laws.

The six initiatives submitted to the Legislature this year smashed the old record of three, set in 1972. Also, never has one legislative session in our state brought the passage of three initiatives.

In addition, no Washington general-election ballot has ever held four initiatives, but we sure seem to be heading in that direction now that the I-2066 petitions have been turned in.

The Democrats will complain, just as they did with the other six initiatives, that the supporters of I-2066 bought their way onto the ballot.

Let’s Go Washington gets credit for making petitions available for the people to sign, and coordinating the collection and submittal of those petitions to the secretary of state.

But I-2066 will go on the ballot because around half a million voters signed their names as wanting choices when it comes to household energy.

The initiative process in our state is an example of self-governing in its purest form. There is no better way for the people, to quote Thomas Jefferson, to “set things to rights.”

HB 1589 was one of the worst laws created this year. Passing I-2066 will strike that law down before it can do real harm. It’s how our state does better.

Sen. John Braun of Centralia serves the 20th Legislative District, which spans parts of four counties from Yelm to Vancouver. He became Senate Republican leader in 2020.