Politics Blog

Whatcom Tea Party hosts ex-auditor, eschews rally, for Tax Day

Along with death and taxes came the certainty of the tea party holding a rally along a busy city street around April 15th, not so affectionately known as "Tax Day."

The Whatcom Tea Party will not rally this year, Terry Cox of the WTP tells me. Instead, the group is holding a general meeting tonight, Monday, April 14, at the Building Industry Association of Whatcom County HQ, 1650 Baker Creek Place, Bellingham.

Featured speaker is a longtime Democrat, ex-state auditor Brian Sonntag. The event -- again, it's tonight -- runs from 6 to 9 p.m. Doors open at 5:30.

Cake and other refreshments will be served to celebrate the sixth anniversary of the original WTP Tax Day rally, according to a tea party press release. The organization also posted information about the event online.

The meeting is free and open to the public.

Sonntag will speak on "Washington Tax Policy & Economic Future of the State."

Here's a Sonntag bio, provided by WTP: 

Brian Sonntag was first elected to public office in 1978 as Pierce County Clerk, working as the administrative officer for the Superior Courts. On November 4, 1986, he was elected to the office of Pierce County Auditor, an office his father, Jack W. Sonntag, had held from 1948 to 1969. Following the end of his second term, Mr. Sonntag was elected Washington State Auditor on November 3, 1992. He was re-elected four times, most recently in 2008 with 70 percent of the vote.

Sonntag was summarily excommunicated from the Democratic Party in August 2013 by then state Chairman Dwight Pelz. The link one sentence above is from the right-leaning Washington State Wire, a web-only news source with a focus on state government. Sonntag's ouster followed him receiving the title of senior fellow for government accountability with the conservative Freedom Foundation. Pelz blasted Sonntag for aligning himself with an anti-labor group.

Here are a couple excerpts from the WSW report:

Sonntag ... says he has always been a supporter of organized labor. Nothing will ever change that, even if he goes around the state making speeches in favor of government accountability and transparency at meetings organized by the Freedom Foundation — pretty much the same sort of thing he did in office. He points out that as auditor he was always a defender of prevailing wage laws that benefit labor and was quick to point out when local governments were in violation. ...

"It is absolutely unfair," Sonntag says. "I don’t think it has anything to do with me or my advocacy for open government, but rather Dwight’s narrow view that if you ever support a Republican candidate like Rob McKenna for governor, or you ever hold an opinion or view different from the party platform, then you can’t be a Democrat in this state, no matter what. His definition of a Democrat is so narrow and so far removed from where most real people are that really he is out of touch.

"If I were as narrow as Dwight wanted me to be, I don’t think I would have been in a very good position to govern on behalf of all the citizens in the state."

Sonntag says he has nothing to do with any anti-union position taken by the Freedom Foundation. Arguably the think tank does take a number of stands labor might find anathema, including support for making Washington a right-to-work state. But what counts to Sonntag is that the Freedom Foundation also has taken an aggressive position in legal battles for open public records. "These are the things that I am working with the Freedom Foundation on, working with local officials on making sure that government stays open and people have access. I am not working on whatever conspiratorial issues Dwight has with them."

* * *

Also from WSW, Trent England of the Freedom Foundation says:

Sonntag has long been an ally on issues of government accountability and transparency, and there are many local-government officials who are excited by the opportunity to work with Sonntag. The funny thing is that the Freedom Foundation seems more open to divergent viewpoints than the Democratic Party, he says. "It is not our policy to impose an ideological litmus test on our staff because we don’t want to become as narrow and bitter as Dwight Pelz’s version of the state Democratic Party. It is kind of funny. Having Brian on our staff is no stretch because we have plenty of disagreements among ourselves at the Freedom Foundation. We are happy to celebrate diversity whenever we can."

The Stranger's "Slog" reported on Sonntag's ouster, too. The liberal alt-weekly out of Seattle applauded Pelz's move.

Stranger news writer David Goldstein wrote, back in August:

It's moments like this when I really love Pelz. Sure, he can be an a**hole. But he's our a**hole. (Dear readers, The Stranger's language laws are more liberal than ours.)

As for Sonntag, I know the editorial boards love him, but I say good riddance! The "D" next to his name on the ballot, and his support for a long list of conservative programs and candidates, had long given Republicans the cover to paste the "bipartisan" label atop their otherwise partisan agenda.