Tim Eyman, a career anti-tax initiative promoter, listens during a news conference Monday at the Capitol in Olympia, where he announced his entry into the 2020 governor’s race as an independent. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Tim Eyman, a career anti-tax initiative promoter, listens during a news conference Monday at the Capitol in Olympia, where he announced his entry into the 2020 governor’s race as an independent. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Initiative impresario, political provocateur — and governor?

Tim Eyman’s candidacy will settle whether voters like him as much as they like his tax-cutting ideas.

OLYMPIA — We knew it would happen.

It’s a wonder it took this long.

Tim Eyman, the initiative impresario, political provocateur and human heartburn for a generation, is running for governor.

With passage of Initiative 976 and the ensuing legal fight it’s triggered, he somehow got it into his head that it isn’t just the idea of lower car tabs and taxes voters want, it is he, as well — in the seat of power as the state’s chief executive.

One can understand where he might get such an idea. Some very sharp people, armed with a stack of polling data, decided that one thrust of the $5 million No on 976 campaign should be to make sure voters knew Eyman sponsored the ballot measure.

Among voters who said they knew Eyman, polling showed, most had an unfavorable attitude toward him.

For example, in February, a combined 27% said they had a “somewhat” or “very” favorable opinion of him while 41% had a “somewhat” or “very” unfavorable view. Another 32% didn’t know him or had no opinion. In July, his favorables were the same, and his unfavorables declined to 35%, with 38% not offering an opinion.

Opponents sought to capitalize on his negatives. The strategy failed.

So let’s settle whether Washington voters think as highly of him as they do his initiatives.

In other words: Run, Tim, run. Don’t back out, even when you realize that stealing the governor’s chair will be harder than stealing that one at Office Depot — because the governor’s chair doesn’t have wheels.

Eyman’s entry as an independent spices up the 2020 gubernatorial campaign. Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who is seeking a third term, and a pack of Republicans already in the race and leaders of both state political parties will need a response.

It won’t be easy because the man from Bellevue (by way of Mukilteo) will mock them and their campaign conventions, unceasingly.

Inslee could actually get a boost in fundraising now that he has an opponent with such a reputation. But in coming months, the governor should expect to be pushed to defend his policy initiatives to a greater degree than usual.

Eyman will make lower taxes and less government spending a cornerstone of his campaign vitriol. It’s a simple pitch. Inslee and ruling Democrats in the Legislature want to talk about a capital gains tax, clean fuel standards and increasing state investments in health care, mental health and education. It’s going to a challenging sell in an election year.

Eyman’s presence will test the organizing moxie of the state Democratic Party and its base. In 2019, they effectively failed as I-976 passed and a measure to bring back affirmative was defeated. They have history on their side in 2020. Presidential elections bring out a bluer crop of voters in this state. And Democrats have held the governor’s seat for four decades. It will take work to keep that streak alive.

For the Republican Party, the race got a lot more complicated in the past few days.

Eyman appeals to many Republicans. Even as an independent, he could get their votes and emerge from the top-two primary. Leaders of the Grand Old Party don’t really want him to be their standard-bearer, yet it’s likely the GOP will be freighted with his baggage, should he somehow advance next August.

There is a looming wild card. Eyman is to go on trial in July on accusations he secretly moved money among initiative campaigns and got kickbacks that he didn’t disclose to allies, benefactors and state election watchdogs.

It’ll be more entertaining than an impeachment inquiry, with the potential to impact the August primary directly.

If Eyman goes through with this and loses, it won’t end his political career. He won’t disappear.

He’s probably already crafting a fund-raising email to send his “thousands of supporters” on election day.

We know that will happen. It always does.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos

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