As if working to eradicate polio weren’t enough, William H. Gates Sr. has, in his mid-80s, ventured forth and not only approached, but also actively embraced, the so-called third rail of Washington state politics: the income tax. This is in addition to his co-chairmanship of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and his active involvement in numerous aspects of civic life.
Despite Initiative 1098’s failure at the polls, by lending his name and visage to the Yes on 1098 campaign, Gates did two remarkable things this year. One, he gave the effort to reform Washington’s famously regressive tax code the boost that only a celebrity can provide, thus helping Initiative 1098 in fundraising and in garnering enough support to ensure its place on the November ballot. Without Gates, it wouldn’t have gone that far. Two, Gates comes from the class that would be most directly affected by a measure like I-1098, giving a moral dimension to his decision as well.
Gates’ involvement with I-1098 harked back to his chairmanship of a committee the state Legislature formed in the 1990s to study tax reform. He came out of that process convinced of the need for change, and his public role in this year’s campaign was an outgrowth of that process.
And while the elder Gates has never really flirted with running for public office, his embrace of the third rail only ensures that his role is to take the high road and put the interests of the state before those of his class. That’s something no politician is likely to do.