Sex, liens, and audiotape

The strange ideas and ominous connections of an ultra- conservative state senator.

Last month, Washington state Sen. Val Stevens stood before a congressional committee in Washington, DC, and testified that teachers get aroused in sex education. Please audit the state Health Department, she asked, because it isn't encouraging kids to wait until they're married to have sex.

This is just the start of the Snohomish County senator's agenda for this state—an agenda that might seem straight from outerspace if it weren't so alarming, and if Stevens were alone. (Stevens was one of several Republican solons who threatened to eliminate Washington State University's funding if it didn't eliminate programs for gay students. She will likely rejoin the attack next session.)

Her testimony surprised no one who has worked with her in the state Legislature. When Stevens first ran for office in 1992, a Christian fund-raising letter promised, "She can be counted on to take Christian positions on our issues." She has since earned the nickname "Sex Kitten," notes 39th District Rep. Hans Dunshee, for her apparent obsession with the positions citizens assume in their bedrooms. She has sponsored laws to ban gay marriages, outlaw portrayals of homosexuality in public schools as "positive and normal," block federal "Goals 2000" education funds that would pay for sex education, and prohibit the selling of "sexually explicit" materials to minors. Stevens is also former director of the state branch of Concerned Women for America, an ultraconservative women's lobbying group whose current activities include a campaign to outlaw domestic-partner benefits for gays.

Even more astonishing than the sex bills Stevens sponsors are the anti-government measures she's proposed, including a bill to give county sheriffs supremacy over federal law enforcement and House Joint Memorial 4002—a declaration to President Clinton reaffirming Washington state's right to govern itself without federal interference.

Stevens has ample experience telling the feds off. In 1977, she and her husband, Keith, filed a lawsuit against the IRS claiming that tax liens imposed on them were unconstitutional. They referred to themselves then as "sovereign citizens"—a term, according to Washington Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Even,used by white tax protesters to signal their belief that they don't have the same legal obligations as minorities. "There's this little movement that says that since the 14th Amendment makes minorities citizens, and white people were already citizens, laws that follow [the 14th Amendment] don't apply to whites," says Even, straight-faced.

The lawsuit was thrown out for "failing to state a cause of action," and the IRS continued to file liens into the '80s, by which time the Stevenses had "incorporated" their property under the Universal Life Church. The feds dropped the liens in 1984, but won't say whether the couple finally paid up.

The senator has tangible ties to militant right-wing organizations. In 1994, she and a few other conservative politicians went on a "Politically Incorrect Cruise," a Caribbean excursion arranged by Cruise Holidays of Olympia. One of Stevens' co-passengers was Paul Hall, editor of the California-based Christian Identity newspaper The Jubilee. A spokesperson for the paper, who asked not to be identified, confirmed that Stevens was invited to be a speaker on the trip, but he refused to send Seattle Weekly a tape of her speech. Tapes are available to the public, though, for a small donation to The Jubilee. Another guest on the cruise was common-law guru Gene Schroder, who later listed Stevens as a contact on his Web page until she asked to have her name removed.

In campaign literature and on her Web page, Stevens advertises that she belongs to the Snohomish County Property Rights Alliance, which spearheaded a 1993 referendum to overturn the Growth Management Act in Snohomish County. The courts ruled the referendum unconstitutional, but Stevens didn't give up; last year she introduced an act to carve a new county—Freedom County—out of her district.

For all of her peculiarities, people who've met Stevens say that she's a pleasant, friendly person. "Her nails were always done perfect, the makeup perfect," says one former acquaintance. "She and [her husband] are always very nice." Dunshee agrees: "She looks like a nice grandmotherly type." But this grandma's on the warpath.

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