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Spin Control

Sun., May 16, 2010, 11:05 a.m.

Voter discontent? Let us count the ways

OLYMPIA – Anyone doubting 2010 is an extraordinary year in the body politic should consider two numbers: 77 and four.

The first is the record number of proposed initiatives filed with the secretary of state, which swamps the previous record of 60 in 2003. There are initiatives to cut taxes, raise taxes, restrict federal powers, end state programs, legalize marijuana, criminalize martial arts weapons and force schools to do a better job of teaching the Declaration of Independence and the state and federal constitutions. Oh, and trade George Washington’s face on the state seal with a tapeworm.

A wide array of political persuasions are at work, from perennial initiative sponsor Tim Eyman and his band of merry activists – Eyman’s name is on about one in five of the active and inactive initiatives filed this year – to Bill Gates Sr., who was in Spokane late last week to drum up support for a proposal to place an income tax on people who make more than $200,000 a year in exchange for dropping some existing taxes.

Many initiatives are ideas that have been kicked around the Legislature for years, such as getting the state out of the liquor store business. Others want to undo something the legislators did, such as removing the supermajority requirements for tax increases.

It’s possible that supermarkets will have to schedule petition gatherers in designated time slots next month, much the way they do Girl Scout units at cookie time.

The second number, four, is the number of efforts to recall sitting statewide elected officials, one each for Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark and Attorney General Rob McKenna, and two different petitions for Gov. Chris Gregoire. That, too, may be a record, although no one keeps good count of such things.

James Vaughn’s attempt to recall Gregoire for, among other things, signing the bill that temporarily suspends the supermajority needed to raise taxes, ran aground in Thurston County Superior Court late Friday. Vaughn, of Orting, had also argued that voters should get a chance to boot Gregoire for failing to make across-the-board cuts when the budget forecasts went south and for claiming executive privilege in refusing a request for documents under the state’s Public Records Act.

Superior Court Judge William McPhee said Vaughn’s request didn’t meet the state’s requirement that the actions are legally sufficient to warrant recall –malfeasance, misfeasance, breaking the oath of office – a standard designed to keep elected officials from getting the boot midterm for frivolous reasons or unsubstantiated claims.

In the case of suspending the supermajority for taxes, a standard set by initiative, the judge said Gregoire was handling a bill passed by the Legislature in a manner set down by the state Constitution: Lege passes a bill, gov signs or vetoes it.

In other words, you can’t make doing one’s constitutional duty a recallable offense, even if you don’t like the result. That’s what elections are for.

Vaughn, who runs a company that specializes in finding jobs for veterans, represented himself. He was philosophical about his loss and unsure if he’d appeal. A recall just seemed like one way to address frustration the public feels about its government, he said.

“I think, for the most part, people feel powerless,” Vaughn said. “They don’t feel represented. They look at the economy and they’re scared.”

A self-described “blue dog” Democrat, he has had a few forays into the political arena, including running for Congress in the 8th District and filing an initiative in January. His is the one that suggests changing the state seal to a tapeworm, with the slogan “committed to sucking the lifeblood out of each and every taxpayer.”

It was meant to be a joke, he said, and he never tried gathering signatures or even printing petitions. But in the last few weeks, for some reason, he’s received several phone calls from people serious about signing.

That may be one more barometer of the public mood.

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The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.