If initiatives are the voice of the people, Washington state activists are saying plenty this fall.
Groups are busy collecting signatures for their favorite causes: gun rights, school reform, repeal of affirmative action and “special rights” for homosexuals.
Even adding Easter Monday as a state holiday.
These and other causes are circulating on petitions to the Legislature. Such ready-made laws either must be approved by legislators or put on next year’s ballot. But sponsors must collect signatures from 190,000 registered voters by year’s end.
People seeking those signatures have become as much a part of the December landscape at shopping centers as twinkling lights and reindeer.
Many initiative sponsors complain, however, that one voice speaks louder than the rest: money.
Without it, many ideas - whether liberal, conservative or way out - just don’t stand a chance.
“You pretty much have to pay (for signatures) to succeed,” said Rep. Steve Hargrove, R-Poulsbo, the sponsor of an initiative to restrict the increase in property tax levels.
Hargrove remains optimistic about Initiative 178, which would set 1995 as the base level for property taxes, allowing an increase of no more than 2 percent a year. But he’s realistic enough to admit it probably won’t happen.
The freshman legislator said he was told when he prepared the initiative last summer he would have to pay people to collect signatures to have a chance.
“When I told people I wasn’t prepared to do that, they said ‘Then you’re not going to make it,”’ he recalled.
Barring a huge influx of signed petitions in the next several weeks, the experts probably were right, Hargrove concedes.
Ron Taber, sponsor of two initiatives, agreed that paying for signatures can spell the difference between success and failure.
His Initiative 173, which allows private schools to receive state-funded vouchers for their students, is paying workers 40 cents a signature.
“We’re on track,” said Taber, who has poured about $120,000 of his own money into the campaign. “I expect to have enough signatures by Dec. 22.”
A good signature gatherer can collect up to 400 signatures a day, he said.
Initiative 172, another Taber-drafted proposal, seeks to outlaw affirmative action programs by state and local government. It’s not paying for signatures, and it’s lagging.
“I’m not optimistic, but the campaign is going forward,” he said.
Sam Woodard of the Citizens Alliance, which is sponsoring two initiatives, is critical of the trend toward paying people to gather names. The alliance refused to pay for signatures.
“It’s no longer a citizens process,” Woodard said. “It’s a big business.”
Initiative 167, which would ban adoptions or foster care by homosexuals or unmarried partners, has a chance even though the alliance is relying on volunteers to gather signatures, Woodard said.
But Initiative 168 - which would repeal state laws on concealed weapons permits, waiting periods to purchase handguns and excess taxes on ammunition - “is not going to make it,” Woodard said.
James Spady of the Education Excellence Coalition, which sponsors Initiative 177, defends the practice of paying workers to gather signatures.
I-177 would allow school districts around the state to set up charter schools, independent facilities run by parents and eligible for public funds.
School issues are important to parents, and workers merely make it more convenient for busy parents to sign petitions, Spady said.
“Money and politics are together, and it seems ridiculous to say people can use money in other areas of politics, but not in the initiative process,” he said.
Some initiatives make up for their lack of funding with a large volunteer organization.
Peg Bronson, sponsor of Initiative 166, said the proposal to ban government-mandated protections for homosexuals dropped its paid staff after a few weeks because they weren’t getting good results.
But the campaign has volunteers around the state and “I think we’re going to make it,” she said.
Without a big budget or a big staff, some initiatives are destined to be little more than curiosities.
William Walker of Seattle wants federal laws to be submitted to the public instead of being passed by Congress. He hasn’t circulated any petitions for Initiative 170, which he believes may be ahead of its time. Instead he’ll refile the initiative every year until the concept catches on.
Melody Hegwald of Everett was angry that grocery stores were open last Easter, and thought someone should do something about it. She proposed an initiative that would declare Easter Sunday, the next day, and Dec. 26 as state holidays.
She and “several Christian women” are circulating about 100 petitions she printed. She doesn’t have firm numbers on signatures, but if anyone would like to sign Initiative 182, she’d appreciate the call.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHERE TO CALL Here’s a list of numbers for information on obtaining petitions: Initiative 166. Prohibits government from giving special rights or protections based on sexual orientation and schools from presenting homosexuality as acceptable. Penny Lancaster, 922-4825, or Ron Ogle, 238-6647. Initiative 167. Prohibits placement of children for adoption or foster care with homosexuals or unmarried partners. Citizens Alliance of Washington, (360) 225-8636. Initiative 168. Repeals special taxes and certain laws governing firearms. Citizens Alliance of Washington, (360) 225-8636. Initiative 172. Prohibits state and local governments from engaging in affirmative action programs based on race, sex, ethnic or sexual minority. Gerry Pluth, 535-4393. Initiative 173. Allows state to set up voucher systems that parents could use at private or public elementary and secondary schools. Spokane headquarters, 624-1885 or Jim Hutsinpiller, 448-1776. Initiative 175. Authorizes registered nurses who have been practicing at least 10 years to practice medicine. Paul Keister, (509) 545-8645. Initiative 176. Any juvenile who commits a crime while possessing a weapon would be prosecuted as an adult. Richard Woodrow, (206) 745-5586. Initiative 177. Allows “renewed” school districts and parents to set up non-profit, publicly funded charter schools. Christine Lund, 226-3088. Initiative 178. Freezes property taxes at 1995 levels, allowing only a 2 percent increase each year for inflation. Jon Tuning, 326-6925. Initiative 182. Makes Easter Sunday, Easter Monday and Dec. 26 holidays. Melody Hegwald, (206) 290-3091. Initiative 183. Allows cities and counties to authorize video gambling devices. Vito Chiechi, (360) 754-8141.
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