Rejecting the argument that Washington’s ballot is for sale to the highest bidder, a Thurston County judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit that sought to throw out the June ballot authorizing a new Seattle Seahawks stadium.
Stadium opponents had sued the state on the grounds that the Legislature violated the Washington Constitution when it forwarded the $425 million stadium-funding plan to the ballot at the request of Paul Allen, who was considering an option to buy the team.
Superior Court Judge Gary Tabor acknowledged the unusual circumstances, such as Allen’s stature as one of the world’s richest people, but he concluded that the Legislature acted properly and in the public’s interest.
“It was an issue brought about by someone prominent. However, that’s not the same as saying this was an election for sale,” Tabor said. “No one knew the outcome of this election. It was in question until the end.”
Steve Eugster, the Spokane attorney who sued the state on behalf of a Seattle man opposed to the stadium plan, said he plans to bypass the Court of Appeals and take the case to the state Supreme Court. Both sides and the judge agreed that’s where the issue ultimately will be decided.
The lawsuit was filed in May after the Legislature agreed to put the stadium plan up for a public vote in a special election June 17th. The court delayed hearing the case until after the election.
Faced with the prospect of losing the team, the stadium plan was approved by 51.1 percent of the voters, with a difference of 36,700 votes out of 1.6 million cast.
Allen kept his promise and bought the Seahawks after voters approved the stadium plan. The Kingdome is scheduled for demolition in 2000 to begin construction on the new stadium.
Eugster’s primary claim involved whether the Legislature had the authority to call a special election that would be paid for by a private party who stands to gain from the result.
He argued that a provision nullifying the ballot measure if Allen didn’t reimburse the state for the $4 million cost of the election essentially gave him veto authority normally reserved only for the governor.
“We’re asking you to take a look at what this means for the future of the state of Washington,” said Eugster, who represents Jordan Brower in the lawsuit. “The Legislature is selling a special election to a person who is willing to agree to pay for it.”
Assistant Attorney General Jeff Even defended the Legislature’s action, saying an election should be overturned “only in the gravest of circumstances.”
“The people were given a choice in this case,” Even said, “and they exercised that choice in approving the stadium.”
Eugster also argued that the Legislature violated procedural guidelines involving the ballot title and the measure’s emergency clause, but the judge rejected those claims.