An old colleague of mine in Olympia loved trivia. He once played a civic engagement quiz mocking initiative profiteer Tim Eyman that, in what seems like another life, is sadly relevant today. So, rechanneling that spirit for Spokane voters, here's a number you should spend some time thinking about: 1366.
A) Is it the number of the latest initiative being sponsored by Tim Eyman?
B) Is it the number of ballot initiatives that Tim Eyman will propose before he rides off into the sunset?
C) Is it the number of times that Spokane City Council candidates LaVerne Biel and Evan Verduin say the word "nonpartisan" despite their endorsements?
D) Is it the rate for a gold-plated high-school class ring with your name emblazoned on it?
The correct answer is A, Tim Eyman's latest ballot initiative, which you — yes, you! — will be voting on this November. Initiative 1366 would cut our state sales tax from 6.5 percent to 5.5 percent, resulting in the loss of more than $8 billion in revenue over the next six years; that is unless, the initiative states, the Washington State Legislature approves by April 2016 a constitutional amendment to require a two-thirds vote to raise revenue. The two-thirds rule, a "supermajority," was already declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court. No matter. Forget education investments, affordable tuition and mental health programs passed by Democrats and Republicans in the most recent session. With help from Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan and his father Jack, under the name "Voters Wants More Choices," this initiative — and Eyman — are the worst.
To quote the recently departed Yogi Berra, it's like déjà vu all over again, as I'm here to provide a refresher course on Tim Eyman — who, coincidentally, was a high-school class ring salesman in Mukilteo. (So if you answered D, you get a pass.) His snake-oil-huckster origin story makes sense — the man is a monument to deception and hyperbole. Hellbent on destroying government, he finally might be getting his comeuppance, as the state Public Disclosure Commission referred an investigation into his activities to the Attorney General's Office, alleging that Eyman illegally received regular, secretive payments. In the commission's words, "it appears that Mr. Eyman intended to hide from the public the sources of funds and the actual purposes for which expenditures were made, and to further conceal that funds were used by Mr. Eyman solely for his personal use." For all of his moaning about the lack of governmental fiscal accountability, Eyman reportedly kept $170,000 in 2012 campaign money for himself.
Organizations like the Association of Washington Business and the Washington Retail Association, which have donated to Eyman initiatives, are running scared about the misuse of the money they provided. However, the revelations of impropriety haven't slowed Eyman. He won't give interviews or debate those who oppose Initiative 1366, but he continues to send out fundraising emails and already has submitted another initiative to the Secretary of State's Office.
It remains to be seen how the attorney general's decision will affect Eyman, the outcome of Initiative 1366 and his money machine, since he's not an elected official or candidate — no one ever voted for Eyman. Instead, the state votes on his cowardly, oversimplified ideas (less taxes!). Those ideas, it pains me to say, do have a wide appeal if you don't take time to follow the money. These ideas are as broken and self-serving as Eyman himself. His initiatives are not about good policy or making government work better for you. Initiative 1366 continues the Eyman legacy of disrupting democracy while further lining his pockets, as he becomes exactly what he rails against: A corrupt demagogue in Olympia. ♦
Paul Dillon manages public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho. He has also worked in the state legislature and currently lives in downtown Spokane.