November 10, 2011 in Washington Voices

Front Porch: Slap a few limits on initiatives

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Aren’t you glad the election is over? I mean, c’mon, the barrage of nonstop TV commercials, bulk mailers, political phone calls – it’s really all too much. I’m already sick of the 2012 presidential election shenanigans, and it isn’t even 2012 yet!

I’m writing these words on the weekend before the Nov. 8 election, so I don’t know yet how this year’s issues and races are all going to turn out. So in these hours before I actually know the outcome, I’d like to say something about initiatives in general and Initiative 1183 (the booze one) in particular.

I don’t think initiatives are a great way to govern or make law, generally speaking, but I’m not ready to ditch them entirely. I think a pretty good case can be made for citizens’ rights to bring things directly to the public, but as we lean in that direction, we tend to make the legislative process less relevant. Maybe I missed something in Civics 101, but that’s my overall view.

But if we’re going to have the durn things, can’t we at least do two things – attach double jeopardy to them and make them comprehensible? For example, Initiative 1183 is a rehash of an initiative that went down in flames a year ago that, if passed, would have let big grocery chains and big box stores sell liquor, closing down the state-run liquor stores. With massaged language, here it is up for a vote again.

Surely a moratorium of what, maybe five years, should be in place before an issue can be trotted out again. Perhaps when the Magna Carta is revoked and Queen Stefanie, who would be a most gentle and benign dictator, assumes the throne, that’s the way it will be. And I mean that for issues I support as well as those I oppose. Quit bombarding us. I think we voters just get worn down when stuff keeps getting recycled and trotted in front of us over and over.

I took the time to read not only the Voters Pamphlet but also online and editorial information about Initiative 1183, and I’m even more confused. Add to that the bazillion TV commercials and other visual and verbal assaults on the topic that proliferate, and mind numbing is probably the best I can hope for. One representative of a first-responder profession says it’s ducky, another one says it’s a scourge. Organizations are lined up everywhere promoting or debunking the thing.

When I read the detailed projected fiscal impact, I got cross-eyed, especially as it is based on a whole lot of assumptions, as I suppose it has to be. While I’m no genius, especially in matters financial, I do have enough of an IQ to follow the thread of most narratives – and I got so swamped in the financial-speak that I now have to question my ability to even balance my own checkbook (and, yes, I still do that every month).

Proponents state that 1183 “prevents liquor sales at gas stations and convenience stores.” Opponents maintain there’s a loophole so that minimarts in many locations will indeed be able to sell liquor if there are no size-approved stores selling spirits in the area, with no definition of what constitutes “the area.”

Proponents say it provides new revenues for the state. Yes, say the opponents, those will be revenues that come from new taxes for consumers. Pro-1183 folks say it gets the state out of the monopolistic liquor business. Con-1183 people say that state stores have a better enforcement record preventing sale to underage customers than privately owned businesses have.

OK, this goes on and on, and we do in this country have a fine tradition of everyone being able to put ideas and opinions out there, with the responsibility falling to the public to figure it all out and make a good and informed decision. And why shouldn’t Costco, where I am a member, support the issue if they feel it helps their bottom line, and my local grocery store, where I also shop, hand out information against it if it hurts their bottom line? That’s the marketplace.

But how do you figure it all out when people in professions who probably know quite a bit more about the subject than I do (law enforcement, medical and mental health personnel, educators, etc.) come out on both sides of the subject? So, my firefighter trumps your firefighter, is that it?

Sometimes the wording of the initiatives and the initiative process itself make it too darn hard to figure out what passage of an issue is really going to mean – and what the right thing to do is. Isn’t this why we have an elected legislature? No matter how this issue, and all the others, resolve, I’d like to very humbly suggest that we back off on the number of these initiatives, stop tweaking and recycling them and outlaw any paid advertising regarding them until a month before the election. We need a little mercy here.

And of course, when that aforementioned Magna Carta event takes place and I take over the running of things, I won’t be so humble about it.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at upwindsailor@comcast.net. Previous columns are available at spokesman.com/columnists/


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