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Spin Control: State’s initiative system doesn’t need change

OLYMPIA – Supporters of Initiative 517 tried to get some traction last week with what they said is a “shocking trend” in Washington politics.

This fight for attention is a tough one considering I-522, on the labeling of genetically modified foods, is a fairly easy-to-grasp issue and has some $5 million to spend on the Yes side and more than $17 million on the No side. I-517, on the other hand, is an initiative about initiatives, with a Yes campaign fund of about $1,500 and opponents with about $225,000.

To ramp up the volume on I-517, campaign chairmen Eddie Agazarm and Mark Baerwaldt worried in an email about the rising number of signatures needed to qualify for the ballot and the rising cost of collecting them.

From 1997 through 2000, an initiative needed about 179,000 signatures, and the average cost was about $342,000. For the next four years, an initiative needed about 198,000 signatures, and the average cost was $676,000. Then it was 225,000 signatures, with an average cost of $713,000, and through 2012 it was 241,000 signatures: average cost $1.4 million.

“This exponential cost escalation is because since 1912, the number of signatures required to qualify for the ballot has skyrocketed almost tenfold, while the time to manually collect signatures has remained the same at six months,” they wrote.

It’s a campaign, so we’ll give them a pass on the hyperbole about an exponential increase in costs when it’s really a doubling between 2000 and 2004, and between 2008 and 2012. But the main argument has two basic flaws. First, the number of signatures is calculated as a fraction of the number of votes in the previous cycle for governor, so the number of signatures goes up because the number of voters goes up. With more voters available, a popular initiative with willing volunteers wouldn’t have any more trouble qualifying in the same time period.

Initiatives about more obscure topics or written by more narrow interest groups have more trouble, and they have to pay people to gather signatures. Washington has seen a wide array of those ballot measures, particularly in the past 20 years, and they have spent big bucks. In a couple of cases, they qualified in weeks, not months, so they don’t need more time.

Among the people benefiting from this shift is Agazarm, who for years operated Citizens Solutions, a business that collects signatures for initiatives.

Tourism officials, take note

A look at the official records most days shows some same-sex couples from other states come to Spokane to get married, and some gay rights advocates have suggested there’s a chance to capitalize on Washington’s status as one of a handful of states that allow such unions.

A recent item in the Chicago Tribune, however, suggests what could be a particularly good tack for promotion. Chicago Alderman James Cappleman told a reporter that he and his longtime partner had a civil union, but the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act convinced them it was time to get married. They wanted to get married in Illinois, but were traveling to Washington next month because the same-sex marriage bill had stalled in the Illinois Legislature.

So here’s the strategy: Watch for states where same-sex marriage legislation gets introduced and gets some people’s hopes up, then fails and dashes them. Then run a campaign based on “Tired of waiting? Come to Washington!”

Ballots in the mail this week

Nearly 4 million Washington voters will be mailed ballots this week as county elections offices begin sending them Wednesday. Voter information pamphlets should also be arriving, if they haven’t already.

Unlike the primary, which was kind of hit or miss depending on the local ballot, all registered voters will get a general election ballot because of the statewide issues.

It is still possible to register for those who are over 18, American citizens, Washington residents and not felons. You have to do that in person, at the county elections office, before Oct. 28 if you want to vote in this November’s election.

Inslee in Spokane this week

Gov. Jay Inslee comes east for a full day on Wednesday. He has a news conference at 9:30 a.m. and a roundtable discussion on transportation at 10:30 a.m. at the downtown Spokane library, shows off the Washington Health Plan Finder’s Mobile Enrollment Tour at 2:45 p.m., gives a speech at Greater Spokane Incorporated’s fifth annual State of the Green Economy conference, and holds a public hearing for a climate workgroup at 5 p.m. at the Spokane Falls Community College auditorium.