OLYMPIA – Goodbye, smoking section.
By an overwhelming margin, Washingtonians on Tuesday approved one of the toughest state smoking bans in the nation. Not only does it prohibit most indoor public smoking; in many cases it also makes it illegal to light up within 25 feet of doors, windows and air intakes.
“It’s like telling people, ‘I can sell you a beer, but you’ve gotta go out 25 feet into the street to drink it,” said Alan McWain, owner of The Spar, a decades-old restaurant, bar and tobacco shop in downtown Olympia.
Elsewhere on the ballot, voters were rejecting lawyer-backed medical malpractice reforms, although a doctor-backed version was too close to call. The malpractice duel has been the most expensive initiative battle in state history, with doctors, lawyers and insurers spending more than $14 million on the two competing initiatives.
Lastly, veteran initiative campaigner Tim Eyman coasted to victory Tuesday night with his least-controversial ballot measure ever. Initiative 900 – which Eyman dubbed his “900-pound gorilla” – allows the state to do performance audits of state and local government agencies.
“We didn’t print up a single campaign sign, a single bumper sticker, no radio ads, nothing,” said an exuberant Eyman, who donned a rubber gorilla suit for a speech to GOP revelers in Bellevue Tuesday night.
Here’s how each of the measures fared:
Smoking ban (Initiative 901)
Smokers were dismayed – but not terribly surprised – by the outcome. The No on 901 campaign – a dozen middle-aged men, mostly smokers, convened at The Spar to puff cigars and glumly watch the numbers scroll across the bar’s TV screens.
“They (ban proponents) spent $1.5 million; we spent like $5,000,” said smoking-ban foe Dave Wilkinson. “We didn’t have the money to reach the voters.”
Under I-901, public indoor smoking will be snuffed out in taverns, bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and some fraternal clubs on Dec. 8. Advocates – including lung, cancer and heart associations – said the measure is a critical protection for bartenders, waiters and other employees.
“It’s fantastic,” said initiative spokesman Peter McCollum, celebrating at an Irish pub in Seattle. “I think the voters of Washington spoke loudly tonight. They’re demanding clean air for everyone.”
Nine states, including California and Montana, have similar laws, although Washington is the first state to pass a 25-foot exclusion zone.
As critics repeatedly pointed out, however, the state law can’t touch tribal businesses. They also said that the ban is an unfair infringement on property rights.
McWain pointed to photos of his father and mother, who bought The Spar in 1945.
“They’d be rolling over in their grave if they knew what was going on now,” he said.
Smokers faced an uphill fight, however. Fewer than 1 in 5 adult Washingtonians smoke. Late Tuesday, the ban was passing by a landslide: 63 percent to 37 percent.
Medical malpractice (Initiatives 330 and 336)
After fighting to a standstill in Olympia, doctors and lawyers this year went directly to voters.
Doctors said they’re being squeezed by high insurance costs. They proposed a $350,000 cap on pain-and-suffering awards, among other reforms.
Lawyers countered, saying rates are high largely because the state isn’t doing a good enough job weeding out bad doctors. Their proposed reforms included a three-strikes-you’re-out law for doctors with multiple malpractice judgments.
The faceoff mirrored similar battles in Florida, Oregon and Nevada. The lawyers showcased families devastated by horrible medical mistakes. The doctors said they were up against “greedy personal injury lawyers” and “jackpot verdicts.”
The poll numbers late Tuesday suggest that voters sided more with doctors, but both measures were failing. Lawyer-backed I-336 was trailing with 42 percent voting yes and 58 percent voting no.
“We are enthused that the public saw through the trial lawyers’ tactics on I-336,” Jennifer Hanscom, spokeswoman for the group backing 330 and opposing 336. “It was just an issue put up on the ballot to confuse voters.”
She said her side was still holding out hope that voters would approve 330, which was trailing, 48 percent to 52 percent.
Performance audits (Initiative 900)
Eyman’s performance audits measure was backed largely by a single wealthy donor – Woodinville investor Mike Dunmire – who poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the effort.
Tuesday’s numbers suggest that voters didn’t need much convincing: late Tuesday, it was winning, 57 percent to 43 percent.
Even less-noticed was Senate Joint Resolution 8207, an unopposed change to the state constitution. It allows municipal court judges to share one of the judicial seats on the state panel that disciplines judges. It was sailing to passage, 66 percent to 34 percent.