Smell test: Half-truths abound in ads running in 30th District state House race

This television ad running in the 30th Legislative District accuses Democratic Rep. Carol Gregory of supporting a state income tax, which she denies.
This television ad running in the 30th Legislative District accuses Democratic Rep. Carol Gregory of supporting a state income tax, which she denies. Courtesy

If you live in South King County or Northeast Pierce County, you probably have been bombarded with advertisements about the state House race between Teri Hickel and Carol Gregory.

The candidates and their supporters together have spent more than $1 million on the battle in the 30th Legislative District, which includes Federal Way, Algona, Pacific, Milton, Auburn and Des Moines.

Several TV ads focus on whether Gregory, a Democrat who was appointed to the 30th District seat in January, supports a statewide income tax. Washington is one of the only U.S. states without an income tax, and Washington voters overwhelmingly rejected an initiative that would have created one in 2010.

THE CLAIMS: Two TV ads paid for by Enterprise Washington, a pro-business group, say that Gregory lobbied for an income tax in 1976, and that she said in 2010 that the state would be “better off” with an income tax. Gregory refutes that, and has sent out her own mailers stating: “Let me be clear. I do not support a state income tax.”

THE FACTS: Gregory was president of the Washington Education Association, the statewide teachers union, in 1976. That year, the union’s membership voted in favor of lobbying for a graduated income tax to help fund education. Gregory, whose full-time job was leading the union at the time, told The Associated Press in September 1976: “We want a tax system in this state that will provide security for teachers.”

In an interview last week, Gregory said, “The union took that position and I was the president, so obviously it was my job to advocate for it.” However, she said, “I do not support it because I don’t think it is realistic in Washington state.”

The Enterprise Washington TV ads also cite Gregory as telling The Seattle Times five years ago that the state would be “better off” with an income tax. However, that wasn’t exactly what Gregory said in that story, which ran before the primary election in 2010, a year when she ran unsuccessfully for the state House.

The story described Gregory as “hesitant to take a side” on Initiative 1098, a 2010 income tax measure that would have affected the state’s wealthiest residents.

“I get nervous when we do tax policy by initiative,” Gregory told the Times, adding: “We will be better off in the short term if it passes.”

A few months later leading up to the 2010 general election, Gregory took a firm stance against the income tax measure.

CONCLUSION: Half-true. Gregory did lobby for an income tax in 1976 as part of her job leading the teacher’s union, as the ad says — but her support for an income tax was decided by the union membership, and not necessarily by her own personal views.

The claim that she supported an income tax in 2010 also took quotes out of context, while ignoring that she actually came out against that year’s income-tax measure later in the election cycle.

Another TV ad in the 30th District targets Gregory’s opponent, Republican Teri Hickel.

THE CLAIMS: An ad paid for the New Direction PAC, a group funded largely by House Democrats, accuses “Teri Hickel’s special-interest backers” of wanting to make it harder for working-class families to get ahead.

The ad puts a photo of Hickel’s face in a rain cloud, and says, “No $12 minimum wage. No paid sick leave. No equal pay for women.”

The ad cites House Republican opposition to some of those measures in the past legislative session as its basis for making those claims.

THE FACTS: In a phone interview, Hickel said she would support a $12 minimum wage if it is phased in over time, and wouldn’t necessarily oppose a paid sick leave bill if its rules are tailored to businesses of different sizes.

She said that while she supports women receiving equal pay for equal work, she said she wouldn’t support a specific gender-pay bill cited in the ad, this year’s House Bill 1646.

Among other things, that legislation would have allowed women to file discrimination claims against employers who require them to not discuss their wages as a condition of employment, or who retaliate against employees for discussing what they make with others.

Hickel said she has concerns about that bill, which passed the House but stalled in the Senate this year. She said that because the legislation would have put the burden of proof on the employer, it could become a “litigation nightmare” and “could be very costly to a business.”

CONCLUSION: Half-true. While many House Republicans opposed the social policies laid out in the ad, Teri Hickel wasn’t serving in the House when those votes were taken. Additionally, she says she does support a phased-in $12 minimum wage, and isn’t categorically opposed to paid sick leave legislation.

However, she said she would oppose the specific Equal Pay Opportunity Act referenced in the ad out of concern for how it could hurt businesses.

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