The gory drama over the state’s record-scary budget has finally concluded in Olympia, but before we put politics behind us for the summer, let’s not forget that initiative season is just warming up. Washington citizens have until July 3 to gather the signatures of at least 241,152 other people who’d like to see their idea — no matter how crazy, practical, abstract, lefty, godless or anti-tax — on the November ballot.
Here’s a roundup of some of the more interesting measures that have already been filed. (For a full list of filed initiatives, go here.)
FACES OF WAR
Should I-1037 become law, there’d be no more Pfc. John Doe commemorative sweatshirts or Gen. So-and-So memorial vacuum cleaners. The measure would prohibit using the names, portraits or pictures of military service members (living or dead) for commercial purposes without permission. News organization could still use the photos, artists could use them in creative works, and the images could be used in memorials. But the tacky use of soldiers’ identity in pushing merchandise would be verboten.
THE HE-MAN CLAUSE
What Initiative 1047 is not about, according to its official text: morality, personal faith, freedom of thought, limiting citizen’s rights, repealing the First Amendment, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion. What it is about is “requiring our government to do its job, to protect our liberty, which has been endowed by our Creator, the one responsible for Blessing us, The Supreme Ruler of the Universe.”
The measure reasons that because the Constitution declares we the people “are endowed by [our] creator with certain inalienable rights,” and because the state constitution declares itself “grateful to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe for our liberties,” then any effort by the government to contend that a higher power doesn’t exist “denies we the people of the United States our liberty.”
If made law, the initiative would prohibit the state from spending any government money on displays, textbooks or scientific research that deny the existence of God.
BE A HERO! SAVE THE DAY!
Generally speaking, there’s an inverse relationship between the number of typos and exclamation marks in an initiative’s official text and its likelihood of succeeding. Initiative 1041 opens thusly: “By increasing our MERQ … we improve our ability to impose our love, on one another by bringing out the philanthropy we have within each of us that has potential to save more lives of those we love, and we feel even greater to know that we have saved tons of taxpayer dollars!”
The sentiment behind this initiative actually is not bad. It would up the state’s Medical Emergency Recognition Quotient by making successful completion of CPR training a requirement of the driver’s licensing process. Too bad the measure sounds like a bad community PSA: “[Imagine] you were goofing off cracking jokes while eating with friends over at their house and one of you started choking, so you did the Heimlich maneuver and saved the day!”
I-1043 represents the classic initiative archetype of the people taking a problem into their own hands — doing the thing that the government doesn’t have the balls to do. In this case, University Place resident and Yakama tribal member Wendell Hannigan wants to force local governments to enforce federal immigration laws. Apparently targeted at immigrant laborers in the Yakima Valley, the initiative (which is modeled on similar but ultimately unsuccessful attempts from previous years) would require proof of legal status for anybody trying to get a job, a driver’s license or any kind of public benefit. It could also strip Seattle and King County of their immigrant sanctuary laws.
THE STAR PLAYERS
An initiative season without Tim Eyman would be like a basketball season without Kobe Bryant. It would go on, but it would lack the color and drama that its star player brings to the court.
Eyman, who along with Spokane father-son team Jack and Mike Fagan first gained notoriety in 1999 by successfully shepherding a ballot measure that limited license plate tabs to $30, has been a very public anti-tax crusader and the most prolific user of the state’s initiative process.
So what do Eyman and the Fagans have on their minds this year?
“Let’s not forget what got us to the $9 billion deficit the state is about ready to see,” Mike Fagan told The Inlander by phone during a family trip to southern Oregon last week. “The government has grown 33-plus percent over the last biennium.”
Fagan’s team has filed seven initiatives so far this season — they often file the same one multiple times, just to refine the language and gauge response — but the one that appears to be sticking, I-1033, would limit government revenues by tying them to the annual growth in inflation and population.
“Simply put,” says Fagan, “if the government grows more than the rate of inflation, then that money that would be determined in excess of the formula would be rebated back to the citizenry.”
That still doesn’t have the zing of “$30 car tabs.”
“You got a cart and the cart continues to get more weight put into it, and pretty soon the horses can’t pull the cart anymore,” he adds, noting that his team would like to limit the amount you can put into that cart.
Fagan says his group’s anti-tax sentiment is “starting to catch on big-time” and credits their success to the more than 40,000 people who support them financially and at the ballot box.
“We’ve been so successful at it because we listen to the people who support us,” he says. “They tell us what to do. We don’t dictate back to them what we do. Those guys sign our paychecks.”
And that success has given them clout in Olympia, he adds.
“When the Fagans and the Eymans talk to the Legislature,” he says, “the Legislature actually lends us an ear.”
Whether they can get 250,000 people to lend them their signatures will be seen in the coming weeks.
B&O IS B.S.
Sen. Lisa Brown has been unsuccessfully crusading for years to overhaul the state’s complex tax code. That’s no surprise — messing with tax structure is an enormous undertaking. But perhaps I-1044 can succeed where the state’s second most powerful politician has failed? The measure, which spends its entire first page listing the various state statutes it would revise, aims to ditch Washington’s business and occupation tax by 2011 and replace it with a corporate flat tax. The reasoning is that killing the B&O (under which companies pay more taxes the more gross income they rake in) would make the state more competitive. Given the current anti-tax fervor, the initiative could have legs.
Not all initiatives to the people are wacky right-wing ideas. A scant few are wacky left-wing ideas. Like Initiative 1045, which would create a state-run health insurance program. Not that universal health care is such a far-fetched idea, but establishing it with an 88-page citizen initiative (at a time when the president may be hatching plans of his own) just might be.
Eyman pal Mike Fagan says his organization tends to file their initiatives several times throughout the year in order to refine their language and make sure they’re only talking about one clear, discrete idea — not multiple jumbled ones. Littlerock’s Patrick Crawford could use that advice. His Initiative 1046 is a hodge-podge of anti-regulation ideas, calling for the end of helmet laws for motorcyclists, seat belt laws for passengers and restrictions regarding hunters’ clothing.
BACK TO THE BLANKET
Stop. Can you say with any confidence right now how Washington state’s primary works? There have been so many legal back-and-forths that it’s hard to keep track of what’s what anymore. Initiative 1048 wouldn’t help matters. It would repeal the current “top two” system (apparently going back to the “blanket” primary, which was already tossed out by federal courts), allow candidates to run for districts they don’t live in, limit filing fees to $500 and add a “none of the above” line to the ballot, so that if a majority of the ballots for any race were marked as such, new candidates would have to be fielded for that office.
Referenda are the other side of the coin from initiatives to the people. Rather than proposing an idea that the Legislature won’t touch, they take a measure already passed by the Legislature and let citizens have a say on it.
As of press time, only two complete referenda had been filed. If either gets the requisite 120,577 signatures by July 25, it could be explosive.
Ref. 70 calls into question Senate Bill 5599, which entered Washington into an agreement with four other states regarding how electoral college votes are allotted in presidential elections. Currently, the candidate who wins the most votes in the state gets all its electoral college votes. Under the new bill, which passed the Legislature 80-63, all of Washington’s electoral college votes would go to the candidate who wins the most votes in the entire country.
Just as disruptive, potentially, is Ref. 71, which gives voters a voice on a Senate bill that gave state-registered domestic partners all the same civil rights and responsibilities short of actual marriage.