Braun: When it comes to dodging constitution, Democrats are habitual offenders


Republicans see absolutely no need for an income tax in Washington. Thanks to unanimous support from Republican legislators, Initiative 2111 was passed on March 4. It outlaws any income tax at any level of government in our state.

That said, it’s often overlooked how our state constitution does allow for a state income tax, provided the tax is applied equally. The trouble is, that condition doesn’t fit with the legislative Democrats’ bias.

In 2021, when approving a tax on income from capital gains that would affect certain Washington residents, rather than all, Democrats found a creative way to avoid complying with the constitution: they claimed their tax on income is actually an “excise” tax.

This past year, a majority on the state Supreme Court upheld the capital-gains tax against a constitutional challenge. As a result, we now have Initiative 2109.

Republicans would have supported I-2109 while we were in session if there had been an opportunity. But that would have required majority Democrats to comply fully with Article II, Section 1 of Washington’s constitution.

Instead, the majority limited the Legislature to consideration of just three of the six initiatives submitted this year.

It’s great that I-2111 (no income tax), I-2113 (restore reasonable police pursuits) and I-2081 (parental rights concerning school information) were approved and will take effect June 6.

Still, there at least should have been public hearings on I-2109 (capital-gains tax), I-2117 (cap-and-trade law) and I-2124 (mandatory payroll tax for the state-run long-term care program) so the people could testify, as they did at the hearings on the three measures that were passed.

Although it’s never right for lawmakers to ignore the constitution, the disrespect Democrats showed by playing the income tax-versus-excise tax game in 2021 and shrugging off three of the six initiatives this session doesn’t come close to a little-publicized vote they took on the 10th day of the 2024 session.

That vote has to do with our state’s redistricting process, which adjusts electoral-district boundaries as Washington’s population shifts and grows.

Washington used to be among the states where legislators control redistricting. In 1983, after a series of problems, Democrat and Republican legislators approved a change to our constitution that gave the responsibility to an independent, bipartisan commission. The voters agreed.

Our redistricting process has since been a model for the nation. By requiring bipartisan agreement on maps, it prevents the discriminatory boundary-setting called “gerrymandering” that can give one party or the other an unfair advantage.

In November 2021, the redistricting commission unanimously adopted an updated map of the state’s 49 legislative districts, using the 2020 census figures.

The two Republican appointees to the commission and the two appointed by Democrats agreed the 15th Legislative District, which spans much of the Yakima Valley, would be a “majority-minority” district. They drew the 15th District so its voting-age population, based on the census numbers, was 51.5% Hispanic and the overall population was 73% Hispanic.

Out-of-state interests sued soon after, basically claiming the district wasn’t Hispanic enough. Yet in the 2022 general election, the district’s voters overwhelmingly chose a Hispanic woman as their new senator.

It didn’t matter that the new senator is the first Hispanic and first woman to hold that office — she’s also a Republican. The legal challenges went forward. This past August, a federal judge based in Seattle and appointed by former President Bill Clinton ruled the 15th District map doesn’t comply with the federal Voting Rights Act.

By law, responsibility for modifying a legislative-district map clearly belongs to the redistricting commission. This past fall Republicans repeatedly called for a special legislative session to reconvene the commission. The governor and the Legislature’s top Democrats all refused.

After this year’s regular session began, I filed legislation to reconvene the commission. While we were on the floor of the Senate chamber on the 10th day, I made a motion that would have brought that legislation to an immediate vote. Had it passed, the commission would have had enough time to rework the map ahead of deadlines related to this year’s general election.

Every Republican supported the motion. Not a single Democrat senator did, so it failed.

My counterpart on the Democrat side of the Senate is on record as saying redistricting is “essential to a fair and representative democracy” and calling Washington’s process “one of the most balanced” in the nation.

Yet when he and his fellow Democrats could have joined Republicans to honor Washington’s constitution, and direct the redistricting commission to fix the map, they instead treated the constitution as a hindrance. Their vote left the redistricting question in the federal arena, free from bipartisanship requirements or legislative oversight.

To no one’s surprise, the map of the 15th District — which has been represented in the Senate by Republicans since 1943 — was just redrawn by the federal court in a way that clearly favors Democrats. It not only makes the 15th and surrounding districts lean Democratic but also pushes three sitting Republican senators out of their districts.

Put another way, a single federal judge has endorsed the gerrymandering our constitution is designed to prevent. It’s a travesty that should offend anyone who believes in fair play and appreciates a balanced approach to lawmaking.

Legislators could and should have done 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.