OLYMPIA – It was as if Tim Eyman brought along his own metaphor Tuesday, as he and supporters uncorked a bottle of sparkling cider, then tallied their signatures for Referendum 65.
After some quick calculations on a cardboard box, the initiative promoter sighed. It was minutes before Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline.
“We have successfully gathered 105,103 signatures for the Referendum 65 campaign.” he announced.
Unfortunately for Eyman, he needed at least 112,440 to get his measure on the ballot.
“Obviously,” he said, “we fell short.”
As a result, a new state law takes effect today. It is now illegal in Washington to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, employment, insurance and credit. Referendum 65 would have halted that law until a statewide vote in November, at which time voters could either uphold or veto it.
The failure stunned some conservative church leaders who’d poured money, staff and influence into the effort. They worry that the new law sets the legal stage for same-sex marriage in Washington, something proponents adamantly deny. Some also maintain that the law could silence some preaching.
“Once this becomes law, I believe the end-game will be to identify as hate speech any public or private expression against homosexuality,” said Edmonds pastor Alec Rowlands. He’s director of Sound the Alarm, which sent out petitions and a video explaining Referendum 65 to 5,200 churches across the state.
“It seemed to us about a month ago that nobody was doing anything,” he said.
Some church leaders said Tuesday evening they might try again – but this time, probably without Eyman.
“It’s almost inconceivable to me that we can’t get 112,000 signatures, when we can get 20,000 people to a stadium downtown,” said Gary Randall, with the Faith and Freedom Network.
Randall was not a fan of Eyman’s tactics – refusing to reveal how many signatures he’d gathered, dressing as Darth Vader and calling himself “the Dark Lord” before TV cameras, and finally refusing to return Randall’s calls. Even the scheduling of the final press conference – on 6/6/06 – rankled.
“I just prayed that it wouldn’t get worse than Darth Vader today,” Randall said.
Throughout Tuesday morning, people had been bringing petitions to the state’s Christian Coalition headquarters in Olympia. Some drove over from Spokane. Others flew in from Yakima. A Vancouver church brought 800 more. Workers at a conference table were opening envelopes and tallying signatures on adding machines.
State Christian Coalition Director Rick Forcier said Tuesday evening that he didn’t fault Eyman – who authored the measure – for not getting the signatures.
“That was our job,” Forcier said. But he said that some churches put off discussing the controversial issue.
“The church is not a political machine,” he said. “I think we’ll have a more attentive audience next time.”
The referendum’s collapse delighted critics.
“Hail, hail, the dark side didn’t win this time,” said a jubilant Judith Gilmore. “It warms the cockles of my heart.”
Gilmore, who lives in Spokane, is on the executive committee of Washington Won’t Discriminate. Until late Tuesday, the group was bracing for a months-long battle over the ballot measure. Among the group’s allies: dozens of businesses and liberal church and other faith groups in Washington.
Gilmore said she sees the signature-gathering shortfall as a sign that Washingtonians are unwilling to allow discrimination against gays and lesbians. She cited the “Let the Voters Decide” shirt that Eyman wore Tuesday.
“Well, the voters did decide,” she said. “And they did not sign his petitions.”
Fellow Spokanite Brad Read, the local coordinator for the group, agreed with Gilmore.
“Even if they saw homosexuality as a sin or as a deviant lifestyle, they weren’t willing to go to the point of discrimination,” he said. “When it becomes illegal to fire someone or evict them from an apartment or deny them a loan simply because of who they love, that’s going to be a great day.”
Until today, Spokane was one of the few cities in the state that had such a law on the books.
“It has worked very well since 1999,” said former City Councilman Dean Lynch, who is gay. In fact, voters upheld Spokane’s law in the face of a similar ballot challenge.
For his part, Eyman blamed Referendum 65’s lack of signatures on the subject matter.
“It’s obviously a very controversial issue,” he said. “Getting people to go out and get signatures for it was just very, very difficult.”
Plus, he said, his campaign attracted only $14,000 in donations. Successful ballot measures typically cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Eyman acknowledged that churches were shocked, well into the signature-gathering season, when he revealed that he’d gathered only 8,000 signatures. But he disagrees that that undercut conservative church groups’ efforts to fire up their members.
“Would daily counts have really made that much difference?” he said.
In the end Tuesday, the 5 p.m. deadline passed. Someone locked the secretary of state’s doors. A liberal blogger spirited away the empty cider bottle as a political trophy. Eyman and his supporters gathered up their petitions, before retreating to a local park to ponder the day’s events.
As the crowd thinned, a man strode up to Eyman and handed him two sheets of petitions. He’d driven the 70 miles from Shoreline, trying to get the signatures there in time.