Tim Eyman formally announces gubernatorial run

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Tim Eyman, a career anti-tax initiative promoter, formally announced his entry into Washington’s 2020 governor’s race.

While he had first said he was running last week during a Sound Transit meeting in Seattle, on Monday he filed one of two required initial forms with the state Public Disclosure Commission and held a news conference at the secretary of state’s office in the Capitol.

Eyman, who has been the subject of a long-running campaign finance lawsuit by Attorney General Bob Ferguson, said he’ll be running as an independent. On his campaign website, he promises to veto all tax increases.

“I plan on being the most activist candidate for governor ever,” Eyman said, saying he would testify on bills before the Legislature and continue to fight the litigation against his recent ballot victory that cuts car tabs to $30.

He joins several other candidates who have already declared against Democratic incumbent Gov. Jay Inslee, including state Sen. Phil Fortunato, former Bothell Mayor Joshua Freed and Republic Police Chief Loren Culp, who have all filed as Republicans. Freed has raised more than $114,000 to date, while Fortunato has raised more than $71,000. Culp has raised about $50,000.

Fortunato, who has supported Eyman’s previous initiatives, expressed frustration Monday with Eyman’s decision.

“This is a serious thing. Republicans have a window of opportunity this year,” he said. “His entering into the race, especially as an independent, makes the thing a circus.”

Inslee, who is seeking a third term, has raised more than $1.8 million. Democrats have held the governor’s office for more than 30 years. The last GOP governor was John Spellman, who was elected in 1980.

Inslee’s campaign would not address Eyman’s announcement, saying the governor “is focused on serving our state and solving the problems that affect Washingtonians’ daily lives.” The state Democratic party last week called Eyman a grifter who “is unfit to run our state or manage our tax dollars.”

State Republican Party Chairman Caleb Heimlich said Monday that the party stands behind the Republican candidates for the primary.

“Certainly, he has a strong brand and he’s going to be running on that brand of fighting for taxpayers,” Heimlich said of Eyman. “It will be up to our candidates to make the case that they are going to be more effective at implementing real change.”

While he can’t officially file with the secretary of state’s office to have his name on the 2020 ballot until next May, once he made a public statement that he was running for governor, he had just two weeks to file paperwork with the PDC. He filled his candidate registration form on Monday and must file a financial disclosure form by Dec. 5.

Eyman, who filed for bankruptcy last year, has twice been held in contempt of court for refusing to cooperate with court rules in connection with the lawsuit filed by Ferguson.

Ferguson alleges that Eyman violated state campaign-finance laws and covertly used his initiative drives to enrich himself. And last month, a judge ordered a for-profit signature-gathering firm and one of its officers to collectively pay more than $1 million for deceiving state residents by funneling their campaign donations to Eyman for his personal use.

The latest case comes nearly two decades after he paid a fine and legal costs to settle the state's case against him for secretly diverting money from his initiative campaigns to himself. The judgment also imposed a lifetime ban on him acting as treasurer or having control over the financial accounts of a political committee.

This summer, he reached a settlement on charges that he stole a $70 chair from an Office Depot. The theft charge will be dismissed if he doesn't commit any crimes and stays away from the Lacey Office Depot for nine months.

And a judge last month ordered a for-profit signature-gathering firm and one of its officers to collectively pay more than $1 million for deceiving state residents by funneling their campaign donations to Eyman for his personal use.

Fortunato said he thinks that Eyman has been treated unfairly by the attorney general, but said he’d still be reaching out to Eyman to ask him to return money he’s donated to his legal defense fund.

“I want my money back to use in my own campaign,” he said.

All of the gubernatorial candidates will appear on the same ballot in August, and under Washington’s top-two primary, the two candidates with the most votes move forward to the general election in November, regardless of party.