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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Conservative hedge fund manager responsible for slate of major initiatives celebrates with Spokane supporters

Brian Heywood, right, promoter of numerous state initiatives, speaks at a news conference with Spokane County Sheriff John Nowels, left, about initiative successes, including the Washington legislature allowing law enforcement to pursue suspects in automobiles. Heywood appeared Thursday in front of the Spokane County Courthouse.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Brian Heywood, the man behind three citizen initiatives that removed restrictions on police pursuits, codified a statewide prohibition on income tax and instituted a parental “bill of rights” focused on education, visited Spokane this week to tout his success and rally voters ahead of the November election.

The conservative hedge fund manager was joined by Spokane County Sheriff John Nowels, Mead School District board member BrieAnne Gray and Spokane Police Detective and union representative Ben Green in front of the Spokane County Courthouse early Thursday morning to mark the occasion.

“It happens to be D-Day, where we stormed the beaches of Normandy to help liberate Europe, and I feel like we’re making a small beachhead here,” Heywood said at the news event attended by one media outlet. “Even in Spokane, we’re doing a small beachhead, sort of against tyranny that doesn’t let us enjoy the real freedoms of the United States.”

The three new laws are half of a slate of initiatives backed by the political action committee Let’s Go Washington that went before the state Legislature this spring on their way to the November ballot. The legislature opted to adopt the aforementioned three and voters will need to weigh in on the other three initiatives this fall. Heywood spent more than $5 million on the effort.

If approved, the initiatives would repeal the capital gains tax for the wealthy, allow workers to opt out of the WA Cares program and repeal large sections of the Climate Commitment Act.

Gray won her seat by a narrow margin in 2021, and ran on a platform of reinstating local control over public education. She criticized the district for not doing more to stand up against the statewide mask mandate during the pandemic, and voiced concerns with critical race theory and comprehensive sex education.

Gray said she was happy to sign her name on the petition for the parental rights initiative amidst what she views as ongoing efforts by legislators in Olympia to strip away local and parental control from public education.

“If you have children, you understand how important it is to know and have access to critical information that will impact their health and their well being,” Gray said. “This initiative is an important first step in taking back those parental rights.”

The parental rights measure known as Initiative 2081 drew a legal challenge from a group of youth services organizations, a Whidbey Island school district, a former Seattle-area high school nurse and the parent of a nonbinary child. The lawsuit was jointly filed in May by legal advocacy groups American Civil Liberties of Washington, Qlaw, and Legal Voice, and alleges the measure violated the state constitution.

The basis for the unconstitutional claim is mainly procedural; the initiative did not properly identify the many existing laws it changes, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit sought to prevent the law from going into effect this week via a temporary halt while the case is being considered, but a King County Superior Court Commissioner declined to issue the emergency order because the plaintiffs failed to show the initiative would cause the imminent harm that would justify such an order.

On top of altering significant laws regarding youth privacy, implementing the initiative will lead to “harm for LGBTQ+ students, youth of color and students from other marginalized backgrounds,” the ACLU said in a statement last month.

“Initiative 2081 will harm Black and Indigenous youth, youth who access school-based sexual health services and/or mental health counseling, unhoused students, and youth survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence by potentially exposing private medical and mental health records without the young person’s permission,” the statement reads. “It also risks outing LGTBQ+ students and endangering their safety if they do not have support at home.”

Gray said codifying the initiative enshrines “a parent’s right to know what is going on in the classroom.”

“We know that children who have supportive parents thrive in school, yet we see students that have health related issues like gender dysphoria, mental health concerns, and behavioral problems kept secret from parents,” Gray said. “Why are lawmakers trying to make it more challenging for parents right now? We are already faced with the oversexualization of our children, big tech and social media challenges and the increasing access to addictive substances.”

Gray did not identify any specific concerns within the Mead School District or Spokane area that led her to support the initiative, noting that it was “a statewide issue.”

Nowels and Green said reinstituting police pursuits will ensure law enforcement agencies near and far are able to serve their communities to the best of their abilities. Green noted most agencies already had their own policies in place regulating when a pursuit could occur, and what it should look like, before the Legislature set a new statewide standard in 2021.

The Democrat-led Legislature at the time passed a group of laws intended to tighten guidelines for law enforcement. Among those laws was one that required police to have probable cause that a suspect in a car committed a violent crime, a sex offense, was driving intoxicated or fleeing arrest before chasing them in a vehicle.

“We in Spokane really, truly believe that the officers on the street and the sergeants who supervise them are the people who should be making decisions about when it is safe to pursue, when it isn’t safe to pursue and balancing that with the risk of letting some of our violent offenders free to go into our community,” Nowels said. “The Legislature decided that they wanted to make that decision, and it was inappropriate for them to do so.”

Nowels added that he would like to see the Legislature enact stricter penalties for those who try to evade the police during a pursuit, and encouraged state representatives and senators to help agencies put more money toward hiring more law enforcement officers statewide.

Heywood closed out the brief news conference with a reminder to voters that the remaining initiatives will be decided upon by them this fall. He said Let’s Go Washington is actively working to collect the recommended 405,000 signatures needed for their next initiative.

Initiative 2066 would cancel some sections of a new mandate meant to encourage large utilities to move away from natural gas and decarbonize residential and commercial heating systems.

Heywood said the state law signed by Gov. Jay Inslee earlier this year could have large impacts on Spokane residents who rely on natural gas for heating.

“Just ensuring that we have common sense choices in Washington is what we’re trying to do,” Heywood said.

“And we appreciate everyone coming out and we appreciate all the hundreds, and really hundreds of thousands, of people that actually sign these initiatives.”