Money pours into Democrat-on-Democrat fight over natural gas
Plus a big check from Big Oil and the Observer gets its first swag
Remember that Democrat-on-Democrat throwdown over natural gas we previewed a while back? Well, it looks like the first round ahead of the August primary will feature some high-dollar hardball.
The Jackson Legacy Fund, a political action committee that backs moderate Democrats, just dropped $150,000 into another PAC called Citizens For Legislative Accountability. The money, we’re told, will be spent on an independent primary campaign in support of union operative Trevor Smith in his bid to unseat Democratic Rep. Alex Ramel in the 40th District, which includes the San Juan Islands, Anacortes, Mount Vernon, and part of Bellingham. Ramel, who’s serving his first full term after being appointed in 2020, has emerged as one of the Legislature’s greenest members.
Here’s why you should care about this: $150K buys a fair-sized primary campaign in that district. It’s nearly double the $86K Ramel has raised for his campaign and dwarfs the $24K that Smith has pulled in so far. Expect it to get rough; nobody spends that kind of money to play nice.
This is essentially an expensive live-fire test of whether this kind of moderate-on-progressive challenge can work, and of the premise that progressives like Ramel are pulling the Legislature’s Democratic majorities too far left for voters’ liking. It’s a safe Democratic district with no Republican in the race, so the primary doesn’t technically matter, but a strong August showing for Smith would show that Ramel is vulnerable.
Much of the Jackson Fund’s money this year comes from blue-collar labor unions who are unhappy with Ramel’s support for legislation aimed at phasing out the use of natural gas in favor of electricity to reduce carbon pollution. Some of the unions, including Smith’s Laborers, represent the folks who build, install and maintain the gas infrastructure, from the big pipelines to the little copper tube that supplies gas to your stove. They’ve been fighting back hard on the various gas proposals, winning some and losing others.
The PAC has also pulled in big checks from the state’s biggest business players including the Washington Association of Realtors and real estate developer John Goodman, as well as corporate giants Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Annheuser Busch
While the Jackson Fund supports Democrats, the PAC that received the money has a distinctly Republican vibe. Citizens For Legislative Accountability is part of Enterprise Washington, a sprawling network of pro-business PACs that mostly supports Republicans. Its president is Paul Graves, who was the House Republicans’ appointee to the semi-infamous Washington Redistricting Commission last year.
That makes sense for a couple of reasons. Most of the Democratic operatives would shy away from working on an intraparty challenge to an incumbent, especially from the center. Meanwhile, Smith would need to win over many of the district’s conservative voters to have a chance at knocking off Ramel.
A big check from big oil
In possibly related news, another Enterprise Washington PAC just got a $150,000 check from Marathon Oil, which owns one of the two refineries in Ramel’s district. Ohio-based Marathon is one of the oldest-school of old-school oil companies. It’s safe to say they’re unhappy with most of the climate policies adopted by the Legislature and Gov. Jay Inslee in recent years, especially the cap-and-trade system for major emitters and the clean fuels standard, both of which very much impact the business of making gasoline.
Marathon was among the biggest donors to Enterprise Washington in 2020. The money mostly got spent on a handful of close races for the state Senate. That contest was technically a draw, with each party flipping a seat. But the result was a not-so-subtle shift to the left in the Democratic majority, allowing the aforementioned climate policies to pass.
Another push to get gas out of new buildings
In definitely related news, the Washington State Building Code Council took a step toward banning natural gas furnaces and water heaters in most new residential construction. The council, which Gov. Jay Inslee has carefully stacked for this purpose, finalized similar rules for new commercial and large apartment buildings earlier this year.
The proposed rules, which went out for public comment this week, would allow supplemental gas heat in places where it gets particularly cold in the winter. That’s a nod to one of the critiques of heat pumps — they become significantly less effective in extreme cold.
Electrifying buildings is a big priority for Inslee and his allies in the environmental movement because they’re the second-largest source of carbon emissions after transportation. Along with the aforementioned unions and the gas companies, large swaths of the construction industry hate this idea because heat pumps are expensive and many folks prefer gas appliances.
The council stopped short of trying to pry gas stoves from the many home chefs who treasure them, but banning gas furnaces and water heaters, along with new ventilation requirements for gas stoves, mean that new house would likely come with an induction stove. The whole point of this exercise is to discourage the gas hookup in the first place.
The Observer’s about to get swag
We’re working on a reader survey that should land in your inbox sometime next week. To induce you to fill it out, we’re offering the Observer’s very first piece of official branded merch. Behold The Observerkoozie:
We’ll also be offering the Observerkoozie as an optional perk for new and renewing paid subscribers. (It will be available in several colors, so don’t worry if the orange is too aggressive for your taste.) They should be available later in July, just in time for the heart of the Season of Outdoor Drinking.
Now go enjoy America’s Birthday
We’re peacing out for the holiday weekend, so there will no Sunday Observer this week. The Woman Who Lets Me Live With Her and I have a bunch of blood kin we haven’t seen in far too long coming to Observer World Headquarters, and that brisket isn’t going to smoke itself. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Raise a glass.
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Arya’s fans must be served
Observer World Headquarters came with a heat pump, and the thing is basically magic. However, it also came with a propane-fired cooktop, which I would be extremely reluctant to part with.