A $31 million campaign by Big Oil has defeated an initiative that would have made Washington the nation’s first state to enact a polluters-pay fee on big polluters’ emissions of carbon into the atmosphere.
Initiative 1361 was passing in liberal King, Jefferson and San Juan Counties, but losing in 36 other counties, with some in Eastern Washington voting “No” by more than 80 percent.
“Big Soda” was another big winner during the evening. Mobilized by the American Beverage Assn., the soft drink industry spent more than $21.5 million on Initiative 1634, which would prohibit other cities and counties from replicating Seattle’s tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.
The opposition spent barely $30,000, but I-1364 still generated suspicion in the electorate. The first batch of statewide returns showed 972,000 votes in favor of the measure with 825,000 voting against it.
“While Initiative 1634 has won at the polls tonight, the science connecting the consumption of sugary drinks to our nation’s obesity and Type 2 diabetes epidemics remains clear,” said Vice Coleman of the Washington Healthy Kids Coalition.
Elections go better with Coca-Cola, or at least when Coke ponies up $9.6 million to the campaign, with Pepsico not far behind at $7.2 million.
I-1631 was crafted by environmentalists and labor organizations. It had support from Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson. Bill Gates gave $1 million to the campaign. Microsoft backed the measure as a boon to Washington serving as a hub for new energy technologies.
Using estimates of rising energy costs, developed by a firm that advises the Tobacco Institute and Philip Morris, the oil industry argued that I-1631 would mean higher prices at the pump and a hit to low-income residents.
The barrage was paid for by $11.5 million from BPAmerica, with more than $7.2 million from Phillips66, and $950,000 from Koch Industries, the corporation of billionaire Republican donors Davic and Charles Koch.
The industry had a lot at stake.
Other countries, notably the European Union, tax carbon emissions, and the Canadian government is hammering together a polluters-pay program.
Ideas born in Washington have a way of spreading to other states, witness the state’s pioneering role in such causes as marriage equality and marijuana legalization.
The thumping defeat for I-1631 is a big, big loss for Inslee, who has made polluters-pay a theme of his administration. The governor has been plying his wares in other states as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.
Seeking attention at Republicans’ election night gathering in Issaquah, initiative promoter and tax rebel Tim Eyman cheered rejection of I-1631.
“A no on 1631, that’s the highlight of the night,” Eyman said.
Washington was a national pacesetter in one field Tuesday night.
The state voted strongly, with support on both sides of the mountains, for the gun safety measure Initiative 1639.
The successful initiative raises to 21 the minimum age for purchase of an assault rifle, requires a 10 day waiting period, and expands background checks to the same level required of handgun purchasers. It imposes penalties on those who fail to safely store weapons, and see them stolen and used in crimes.
The I-1639 campaign had backing from technology billionaires and used a big budget to get on the ballot.
During the general election campaign, however, leadership in the gun safety mesure was entrusted largely to young people. Washington was a major center in the March for Our Lives movement that followed February’s massacre at a Parkland, Florida, high school.
Washington has seen its share of mass shootings, from the Cafe Racer murders to the Marysville-Pilchuck High School shootings, to the killing of three young people at a Mukilteo party, to the massacre at Cascade Mall in Burlington.
The fabled power of the National Rifle Association has faded in this Washington.
I-1639 marks the third time in four years that Washington voters have acted on gun safety, after the Washington Legislature failed to act.
Washington voters also passed I-940, which sets new standards for police use of force and requires law enforcement officers undergo training in de-escalation of confrontational situations and mental health emergencies.
SeattlePI producer Alex Halverson also contributed to this report.