Taking a page from a European protest movement that began in France, Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, donned a yellow safety vest on the floor of the House for Gov. Jay Inslee’s State of the State Address Tuesday as a way of illustrating his concern about the governor’s proposed carbon tax.
“It was a slightly humorous, but also meaningful, statement in reference to some of the protests going on in France,” he said. “The yellow vest has a couple of meanings over there, the most recent iteration as a symbol of the objection on the part of a number of French citizens to the high cost of their version of what we would call a carbon tax.”
While the issues that have spawned sometimes violent protests in Europe are “not really apples to apples,” Walsh said, what the French are protesting is in broad strokes similar to taxes proposed by Gov. Inslee.
“The French have always had somewhat high gas and carbon taxes and the people are getting sick of it,” said Walsh.
The French protests started out “kind of mild,” said Walsh, but have heated up to include “some water cannon type stuff.” He said he drew a connection to the French protests and what he’s hearing from constituents about the governor’s carbon tax proposal.
“I think there is somewhat of a spiritual connection, or at least a broad connection, between what the protesters there are doing and what some of us are saying about (the Governor’s) carbon tax,” said Walsh. He said the voters didn’t approve a carbon tax through initiative, attempts through the Legislature have failed, “but (Inslee) doesn’t listen.”
When Walsh put on the safety vest before the governor’s address it quickly caught the attention of Democrats, described by Walsh as “the other side, and some of them knew exactly what I was going for,” he said. “I was approached by the clerk of the House, Bernard Dean, who acts in many ways as the Speaker of the House’s (Rep. Frank Chopp, D-Seattle) kind of details guy and he asked my leader (House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm) to ask me to take the vest off.”
When asked why the vest needed to removed, “they went back and chewed on it for a minute, then said it was because it was a prop.” There is a longstanding rule that props are not permitted on the floor. “So we kind of countered and said we didn’t think it was a prop, it was a piece of clothing, and members have been given some latitude to wear clothing to express an opinion.”
Walsh said that did not set well with House leadership, so he agreed to remove the vest.
“I didn’t want to make a big problem right before the speech,” said Walsh. “(The governor) saw it and I think the message was delivered.”