OLYMPIA -- The beginning of January doesn't just mark the beginning of the Legislature. It is also the beginning of the initiative filing season.
Earlier today, an Everett attorney filed paperwork for an initiative that would define marriage as strictly between one man and one woman. Well, actually the language says "This act reaffirms the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman," because it's an attempt to shore up the Defense of Marriage Act, which is currently on the books but could be changed if the Legislature passes a bill that would allow same-sex marriage.
One might wonder about the political wisdom of this, or at least the timing. The same-sex marriage bill isn't being proposed as one that comes with a referendum clause, which would send it automatically to the ballot, but such a clause might be needed in any compromise that moves it through the Legislature. Even if it doesn't have such a requirement, however, opponents could send it to the ballot by gathering half as many signatures as an initative needs. Putting an initative and a referendum on the same topic on one ballot is a recipe for confusion...just ask the groups that sponsored two liquor initiatives in 2010.
And should the Legislature fail to pass a same-sex marriage bill, do sponsors really want to place the issue on the November ballot, and risk the prospect of voters rejecting the one-man, one-woman description? Or will they just fold their tents and stop gathering signatures?
Meanwhile, Tim Eyman is on track to retain the title of most prolific initiative filer, with five different ballot initiatives already in the hands of the Secretary of State. He has proposals on preserving $30 car tabs, super majorities for tax increases, restricting traffic ticket cameras, stopping government fraud and "protecting the initiative." That last comes down hard on anyone harassing signers or signature gatherers, and adds six months to the process so initiatives can be filed as early as July of the year before the election, rather than January of election year.
Eyman makes clear that his organization has yet to determine which, if any, of these it will push. "We want to see how the legislative session unfolds," he says in a press release that doubles as an appeal for money from contributors.