OLYMPIA — Controversial anti-tax activist Tim Eyman began rolling out the instruments of his 2020 campaign for governor Monday.
He launched a website, registered his campaign with the state, reregistered as a voter in Bellevue and declared he’ll compete as an independent rather than as a Republican, the political party with which he’s been long associated.
“You will see a run for governor like you’ve never seen,” he told reporters in an hour-long session in the Secretary of State’s Office.
It’s the 53-year-old Eyman’s inaugural venture as a candidate. Until now, he’s focused on cutting taxes and limiting governments’ ability to raise them through statewide ballot measures.
His most recent success came Nov. 5 with passage of Initiative 976 to lower the cost of car tabs and erase a vehicle excise tax collected by Sound Transit. An alliance of local governments and transit agencies sued, arguing it is unconstitutionally written. It is seeking an injunction Tuesday to block its implementation.
That challenge coupled with a desire to prevent Gov. Jay Inslee from serving a third term are among the motivations he cited for entering the race.
Eyman vowed to run a “very, very intense policy campaign” but steered wide of taking specific positions on issues raised by reporters.
Running as an independent is a decision he said he reached Saturday night. All the initiatives he’s run and been linked with have been about ideas, he said. None had a party label after it, he said, adding he wants his campaign to be about ideas in the same way.
The formal filing period for candidates is not until May 2020. He joins Inslee and several other gubernatorial hopefuls with campaign committees through which they can raise and spend money. Among them are four Republicans — state Sen. Phil Fortunato, of Auburn; Police Chief Loren Culp, of Republic; businessman Anton Sakharov, and Joshua Freed, a former mayor of Bothell.
Inslee on Monday maintained his public indifference to Eyman’s entry.
“He is not thinking about his potential 2020 challengers,” Inslee campaign spokeswoman Katie Rodihan said in an email. ”Governor Inslee is focused on serving our state and solving the problems that affect Washingtonians’ daily lives, like making college more affordable, supporting working families with paid leave and long-term care insurance, and giving every Washingtonian access to affordable health care. He is not thinking about his potential 2020 challengers.”
State Republican Party Chairman Caleb Heimlich said he’s encouraging the Republican candidates to focus on delivering their message to voters and not be distracted.
“Certainly (Eyman) has hit on issues which, I would argue, are Republican issues,” he said. “Certainly he’s going to be a factor in the primary. Tim is Tim and we’ll see how voters go with that. We will see what that will look like in nine months.”
Eyman enters with no resolution to his legal fight with the state.
A suit filed by the state Attorney General’s Office in 2017 alleges Eyman deceived supporters by secretly moving campaign funds between two initiatives in 2012 and receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks from one of the signature-gathering vendors.
“I haven’t been found to have done anything wrong along the way,” Eyman said Monday. The case is set for trial next summer.
The state also accuses Eyman of receiving tens of thousands of dollars from friends that he used not for legal defense but to support himself, his family and his political activities. The state is attempting to get that money treated as political contributions, which would require disclosing the source of the funds.
On Monday, when asked how he earns his income, Eyman said from “money earned from initiatives I’ve done and money from people who voluntarily support me.”
Eyman filed for personal bankruptcy a year ago. He also revealed that he and his wife would be divorcing after a 25-year marriage. He wound up moving to Bellevue but remained a registered voter at the Mukilteo home where his family still resides.
He said he still visits his family in Mukilteo a lot “and didn’t get around” to changing it.