Jerry Gibbs is no stranger to battles.
And he often wins.
Recently, the citizen activist, who detractors have taken to calling “Pierce County’s Tim Eyman,” threw his weight behind a last-minute effort to derail the Pierce County Council’s attempt to approve a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax for behavioral health services.
The result: The tax didn’t pass.
In 2015, Gibbs spearheaded a campaign to make sure Pierce County didn’t build a multimillion dollar general services building.
The result: After a contentious referendum battle, which Gibbs became the face of, plans for the building went down in flames.
And, prior to all of that, Gibbs made a name for himself challenging school funding measures in the Peninsula School District.
The result: Gig Harbor-area voters, on multiple occasions, rejected such measures. Gibbs subsequently was appointed to a short stay the school board, where he backed a maintenance and operations levy, describing it as a “good, sound plan.”
Voila! It passed with 70 percent support in early 2016.
History shows that Gibbs has a track record of success.
And while we’re listing victories, it’s worth noting that the Gig Harbor resident also overcame throat cancer.
Gibbs tells me his wife refers to the time he spent unable to talk as “the best year of our marriage.”
Those who know Gibbs, like I have come to during my time at The News Tribune, know he’s got the gift of gab. So his wife’s good-natured jab about his verbosity comes as no surprise, nor did it when an impromptu conversation with him Monday afternoon stretched so long it nearly made me late to pick up my kids from daycare.
I called Gibbs with what I figured would be a fairly straightforward question for him to answer: What’s next?
More specifically, I wondered what the future holds for citizen activists like himself.
It’s an intriguing question (at least to me), especially considering one of the few losses Gibbs has endured recently.
People are wary of the initiative process now. Because we’re passing initiatives that are not being enforced, we’re passing initiatives that are not being funded. … Because (the initiative and referendum process) has been used and abused by both side of the politic arena.
Last year, voters soundly rejected Pierce County Charter amendments No. 41 and No. 42, which were designed to make it easier to get initiatives and referendums on the ballot, lowering the required signature thresholds for both.
In the opinion pages of this paper, Gibbs wrote that passing the amendments — which were also supported by the likes of Tacoma Democrat Tim Farrell — was “a matter of fairness” for the citizens of Pierce County.
But when the voters spoke, they spoke decisively, refusing to make it easier for citizen activists like Gibbs to do what they do.
For those like myself, who question some of Gibbs’ anti-spending crusades, there was validation in the outcome. For the chair of Citizens for Responsible Spending, a grassroots outfit with the motto “Let voters decide,” the outcome could be interpreted as a rebuke.
When asked whether he accepts the message voters sent in defeating the dual charter amendments, Gibbs quickly responded, “absolutely.”
“I think, especially in Tacoma, there is a strong feeling for the representative form of government. We elect our representatives to make these decisions. … I’m kind of more of a will of the people guy,” Gibbs told me.
Still, he acknowledged: “People are wary of the initiative process now. Because we’re passing initiatives that are not being enforced, we’re passing initiatives that are not being funded. … Because (the initiative and referendum process) has been used and abused by both sides of the political arena.”
Which brings us back to Gibbs’ future.
His high profile on the other side of the Narrows Bridge has fueled rumors that Gibbs would challenge District 7 County Councilman Derek Young in 2018, or find someone else to challenge him.
“You have to be real careful in these things,” Gibbs said. “I can’t say I’ve announced my candidacy, because I haven’t. … I do have a broad base of supporters, 6,400 donors and followers that follow our committee. Some of the people here think that I should challenge Derek Young. There are other people who say they want me to keep doing what (I’m) doing, because like it or not, we’re either lucky or good, but we seem to be effective.”
There are other people who say they want me to keep doing what (I’m) doing, because like it or not, we’re either lucky or good, but we seem to be effective.
Worth watching as well: Gibbs continues to be publicly critical of the taxes levied on parts of Pierce County by the passage of Sound Transit 3. He tells me his committee has plans to “measure the sentiment of the taxpayers,” in hopes of determining whether we’ve “reached the tipping point in taxing generosity.”
He’s staying active in the county’s behavioral health debate. As Republican Bruce Dammeier assumes the county executive position, Gibbs says Citizens for Responsible Spending is going to “see if we can look at the (county) budget from our perspective and provide some ideas” on how to move forward.
If Gibbs took the message voters sent at the ballot box last November as a personal rebuttal, he’s not telling.
And he still sees a significant role for activists like himself.
“Look at what happened in this county this weekend with the Women’s March. Look at the Tea Party, look at Black Lives Matter,” Gibbs told me.
“I think there is a future for grassroots politics in this country.”