According to Fuse, a left-wing political advocacy organization, the real problem with our state Legislature is that too many Senate Republicans are millionaires in thrall to the rich.
Fuse acknowledges a lot of uncertainty about exactly how many Republican millionaires are in the Senate — it might be 14, or 13, or 15, because the data is muddy. But Fuse’s political point is that being a millionaire makes these Republican senators loyal to the interests of the rich at the expense of everyone else, and the proof is that they oppose a proposed capital gains tax, a significant increase in the minimum wage and other progressive causes.
According to Fuse’s data, none of the Republican millionaires has assets of more than about $6 million. Senator Linda Evans Parlette tops the list with $5.7 million, followed by the Senate budget-writer, Andy Hill, at $3.8. In its original story, Fuse had Curtis King clinging to the bottom of the millionaire class with just $3,337 to spare, but in an updated version of their anti-Republican millionaire jeremiad, the staffers revised his net worth downward to a mere $935,793.
But oh, wait: There are also seven or perhaps nine Democratic senators who are millionaires, as Fuse notes. It’s OK for these folks to be millionaires, though, because they are Democrats who support Fuse’s agenda, and are therefore presumed to be uncorrupted by their own wealth.
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A little context might be helpful here. In 2010, there were 226,000 millionaires in Washington. In fact, we rank 14th among states in the number of millionaires. California had 1.3 million millionaires in 2010. In 2013, the U.S. was home to 9.63 million millionaires.
Millionaires are a dime a dozen. If we were really worried about the corrupting influence of wealth, we would need to raise the bar by a comma and a few more zeros. In American politics, you need to get to David and Charles Koch levels — between the two brothers, that’s about $100 billion — to really furrow most people’s brows.
But the real problem with Fuse’s anti-Republican millionaire crusade is that wealth just doesn’t determine political ideology. There are rich Democrats and poor Republicans. Just a few years ago, we had Bill Gates Sr. leading a campaign for a state income tax. And heaven knows there are now and always have been plenty of low-income Republicans.
Truly, what’s in people’s hearts and minds matters more than what’s in their bank accounts. Whether ordinary citizens or elected officials really care about the one in seven Washington residents who live in poverty is a question of conscience. Whether they support a more progressive tax structure is a matter of ideology.
There is without any doubt a crisis of income inequality in our country and in our state that urgently needs to be addressed. The minimum wage should be higher, the tax system fairer, and the safety net stronger.
But the politics of personal vilification will not achieve any of those goals, and any groups that use such tactics promote cynicism, not fairness.