Pierce County’s new domestic partner benefits might be an issue in county executive and council races this fall – if opponents can get a referendum on the ballot.
Tacoma City Councilman Mike Lonergan and Pierce County Councilman Roger Bush have aligned themselves with an effort to repeal the domestic partner benefits the County Council approved in December.
Lonergan is running as an independent for county executive. Bush was one of three County Council Republicans who voted against the benefits. The measure passed when Republican Councilman Shawn Bunney, who is also running for county executive, sided with three council Democrats.
And one of those Democrats is Calvin Goings, who is yet another candidate for executive. Pierce County Auditor Pat McCarthy is also in the race; as a staunch Democrat, she would presumably be considered a supporter of domestic partner benefits.
A conservative group called CornerStone Foundation of Washington held a fundraising dinner at the Tacoma Elks Club earlier this month to back a referendum forcing a public vote on the benefits issue.
The invitation listed Lonergan and Bush as “supporting members” of the group. Others included state Reps. Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake, and Jim McCune, R-Graham; former GOP state representatives Lois McMahan and Grant Pelesky, and Ron Emmons, pastor of Orting Christian Church and former Orting police chief and city councilman.
The event speaker was Ken Hutcherson, a Kirkland pastor and former Seahawks player who attracted wide attention in 2005 for threatening to organize a national boycott against Microsoft if it supported state legislation banning discrimination against gays.
The invitation lists the repeal measure as Referendum 20076-15. I’m awaiting word from the auditor’s office on who filed it and how many signatures are needed to get it on the ballot.
This might complicate the executive’s race for both Bunney and Lonergan. Republicans who feel strongly about the benefits issue might gravitate toward Lonergan. But Lonergan could blur his independent stance if he lines up with Republicans on a contentious social issue.
Update: Lonergan comments
Yes, I have signed the referendum petition, which would allow Pierce County voters to weigh in on the 4 to 3 vote of the County Council. I’ve talked to a number of taxpayers who oppose paying for incremental steps to blur the line between marriage and other relationships that are not marriage.
State Representative Jim McCune asked if my name could appear on the invitation and I agreed. I’m not a leader or organizer of this effort, however. My wife and I did attend and heard a good speech from Rev. Hutcherson.
You may know that any initiative or referendum in Pierce County has an uphill battle compared to the State level. That’s because the signature requirement in the County Charter is TWICE as high as the state…8% of the last major election turnout, instead of 4%. I believe there’s only about 90 days allowed to gather signatures and the clock is ticking on this one, so it may not even make it to the ballot.