Something is different this year as Washington, D.C., engages in a perennial rite, the haggling over a sales tax deduction that benefits Washington state taxpayers.
Brian Baird isn’t in Congress to fight for the tax break he calls his “signature bill,” which expires Dec. 31 but which could be resuscitated in the new year. The six-term lawmaker for most of Thurston County helped restore it on a temporary basis in 2004 and championed its periodic renewal.
The Democrat declined to run for re-election in 2010. He instead did a seven-month stint as a stay-at-home dad to twin sons. Then, this summer, he returned to the world of government and politics, taking a job coordinating lobbying at Vigor Industrial, the Portland-based shipbuilder and government contractor. (Congressional rules prohibit Baird from directly lobbying his former colleagues until early next year.)
Baird, a 55-year-old former Pacific Lutheran University professor, doesn’t rule out running for office again, and depending on how redistricting goes, his new home in Edmonds could end up in a swing district with an open seat. But for now, the closest he’s gotten to campaigning is promoting his book – “Character, Politics and Responsibility: Restarting the Heart of the American Republic” – at Rotary clubs and the like. As usual for Baird, he’s not exactly spouting poll-tested messages.
“The fact is we’re going to have to raise taxes and we’re going to have to cut spending, both discretionary and entitlements” such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, Baird said. Otherwise, he added, “The choice is to pass deficits on to our kids, which is not tenable.”
For Baird, that means his 6-year-old sons, William and Walter, who have gotten more time lately with dad – including trips to the ski slopes and to Yellowstone National Park for bear-watching and river-swimming.
Earlier this year, Baird’s family left Vancouver and the 3rd Congressional District, which stands to continue becoming more Republican, and moved to Snohomish County. He said they moved closer to his wife’s brother and her job at the University of Washington, not for political reasons.
Picking a new home with the goal of returning to Congress would have been “kind of stupid” before knowing where the political lines will be drawn, he said.
“Right now, I have no plans. You know, you never rule anything out 100 percent. That would be kind of foolish too,” Baird said.
He is working from home and from the former Todd Pacific, now Vigor, shipyard in Seattle.
Vigor is upgrading a Coast Guard icebreaker and wants to make sure the guard doesn’t scrap another of the vessels. And at the state level, Vigor’s contract to build up to three ferries for Washington is contingent on future funding – likely in the form of transportation fees passed by the Legislature or voter-approved taxes.
Other issues in government are catching Baird’s attention because of his past role.
A crackdown he long proposed for congressional insider trading has new momentum. There’s also the sales tax deduction for people in seven states without income taxes, which Baird said can only stay alive if the states’ lawmakers threaten to withhold key votes. Congress left town without renewing it.
“My hunch is,” Baird said, “there was not the kind of concerted, coordinated effort that is necessary to keep this thing going. It was hard, hard political work.”