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Sunday Spin: Initiatives as tactics

OLYMPIA – Initiative entrepreneur Tim Eyman and his detractors squared off recently in the Capitol, where the ingenuity of their latest ideas was overshadowed by doubts about their earnestness.

Eyman signaled he has relatively little confidence the state Supreme Court will look kindly on the constitutionality of this year’s proposal to force supermajority tax votes in the Legislature. He filed yet another ballot measure to force lawmakers’ hands.

Under the new proposal filed by Eyman et al Wednesday, if legislators won’t send voters a constitutional amendment to require two-thirds majorities for all new taxes, any new taxes without said supermajority will have to be passed again on an annual basis. Or something like that.

The latest supermajority scheme might be worthy of serious study and in-depth legal analysis were it not for one key point. Initiatives to the Legislature are traditionally filed in the summer, because the signatures must be submitted by New Year’s Eve, just before lawmakers are returning to Olympia.

With less than six weeks to gather nearly 250,000 signatures, the initiative had dismal prospects, even before Eyman conceded it’s really just a stalking horse. He won’t gather signatures and plans to submit it again in January as an initiative to the people, at which time he’ll have about five months to collect the needed names.

But this iteration, he said, allows the campaign to begin raising money right away, which he did with a steady stream of donation-seeking e-mails to his many fans.

Anyone who thinks that’s an over-the-top gambit for someone under state investigation for funny finances in a previous campaign doesn’t really know Eyman, who is nothing if not an aficionado of audacity.

Which explains why he and his main partners, Spokane City Council Mike Fagan and Fagan’s father Jack wandered down a Capitol Building hallway from the Secretary of State’s office, where initiatives are filed, to the governor’s office for a formal unveiling to the news media. They brought with them ice cream, a reference to a comment they said Jay Inslee made about the tendency of voters to approve things that sound good, just as they are likely to accept a free bowl of ice cream.

This is a standard jab some people make at initiatives that fail to lay out costs or consequences, but it’s debatable. Washington probably has enough vegans and animal rights activists opposed in principle to ice cream, and when the lactose intolerant are added in, a free ice cream initiative might fail. But I digress.

While Eyman and Co. extolled the virtues of their initiative, and denounced Inslee in his office lobby, the governor’s chief spokesman David Postman came out to tell Eyman to turn down the volume because work was going on in adjoining spaces. That grew into a series of verbal parries and thrusts, although hardly the ballistic rant Eyman has claimed, the video posted online reveals. But Postman seemed to have forgotten what he learned in his previous job as a political reporter in Olympia, that no one comes out ahead in such confrontations with Eyman.

Sure enough, by week’s end Eyman was touting the video of their back-and-forth on his latest fund-seeking e-mail with “You’re gonna love watching this!” in the subject line.

Meanwhile, in an effort to out-Eyman Eyman, a progressive group filed an initiative that could make it harder for him – for that matter, anyone – to pass ballot measures in low-turnout years. The Northwest Progressive Institute’s proposal, which also has no chance of making the signature deadline, would require at least 50 percent of all registered voters to cast ballots in the election or a ballot measure would not pass, regardless of the number of yes votes received. 

This is a response to this year’s passage of Eyman’s I-1366, which has about 51.5 percent of voters marking yes, but somewhere south of 40 percent of voters even bothering to turn in their ballots. That means “a small fraction of the state’s electorate can impose laws on everybody else in an election with poor turnout,” the institute’s Andrew Villeneuve said. It is not “true democracy.”

Actually, it is, as long as people had the chance to vote, but just didn’t. Progressives should be careful what they ask for, because some initiatives they might propose in an off-year election, when turnout is often below 50 percent, could fall victim to such a rule. Plus some Eyman initiatives pass handily in even-year elections when turnout generally meets that threshold.

They made a comparison to the Legislature, where the standard is the majority of the number of legislators, not a majority of those present. In that case, the rule would be passage with yes votes equal to 50 percent of registered voters, not a demand for turnout.

It also would require an initiative that calls for a supermajority on any matter to pass by that same supermajority. While somewhat logical as a defensive position, this has the same problem that they accuse Eyman’s proposals of having, that a minority of voters could thwart the will of the minority..

Progressives irked by Eyman seem to be wedded to the adage of fighting fire with fire. If this past summer of wildfire has taught us anything, it would be there are usually better tactics to employ.

Animal protection, tax restriction measures passing

Washington voters gave overwhelming support to a new law to protect endangered animals, and seemed likely to pass by a much smaller margin an attempt to force the Legislature to approve tax increases by a supermajority.

Initiative 1401, dubbed the Save Animals Facing Extinction measure, had the support 70 percent of the ballots counted Tuesday night, prompting supporters to declare it a clear message that states can help protect endangered animals around the world.

“Today’s victory is a step forward in the race against extinction,” Paul Allen – the Microsoft co-founder turned philanthropist who contributed nearly $1.9 million to the campaign – said in a press release.

Initiative 1366, the latest in a string of ballot measures devised by Tim Eyman to require the Legislature to pass tax increases with two-thirds majorities, had support from about 54 percent of the ballots counted and a cushion of about 68,000 votes. It was failing in only four counties, but one of those was the state’s most populous, King County.

Voters have approved requiring super majorities to raise taxes five times over the last two decades, but always through an initiative. In 2013, the state Supreme Court said such a change in the way the state’s founders set up Washington requires a constitutional amendment. But an amendment must start with the Legislature, and only gets sent to voters for final approval if both houses approve it with a two-thirds majority. The Legislature hasn't been willing to do that.

 So I-1366 gives the Legislature a choice, requiring a 1 percent cut in the state sales tax if the Legislature doesn’t pass the amendment included in the initiative by mid April.

Critics said such a mandate would itself be unconstitutional, but the courts refused to block I-1366 from the ballot, giving voters a chance to have their say. It’s likely headed back to the Supreme Court if the lead holds up.

I-1401 adds state penalties to cases of buying and selling products from about a dozen threatened or endangered animals from around the world, including elephants and rhinos. Among the most common products covered would be ivory, which supporters say is the cause of poaching that is decimating elephant herds in Africa.

In contrast to the well-financed SAFE campaign, opponents in the the Legal Ivory Rights Coalition Committee, planned to spend no more than $5,000 total, and accept no more than $500 from any donor. They argued the measure isn’t needed because federal law already has penalties for selling imported poached products, and would really just make it difficult to sell items like ivory jewelry that were purchased legally.

Elway Poll: Voters split on tax initiative; animal measure leading

Voters seem evenly split on an initiative that tries to force legislators to pass a constitutional amendment that would require two-thirds majorities to increase taxes, a new survey says.

But another ballot measure that would place state restrictions on ivory and products from endangered species has strong support in the survey released by Elway Polls.

Initiative 1366, the latest ballot measure from Tim Eyman, Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan and Fagan's father, Jack, had support from 42 percent of the 500 registered voters surveyed between Oct. 13 and Oct. 15. It was opposed by another 42 percent. Support is down from a similar survey in July, when 49 percent said they supported it and 36 percent were opposed.

While support has slipped, the fate  of I-1366 will come down to voter turnout and "late deciders," pollster H. Stuart Elway said. About 16 percent of those polled hadn't made up their mind.  The measure does poorly with voters who have cast a ballot in all or most of the last four elections, but undecided voters still are the key to the measure winning or losing, he said.

"If you vote, you have to vote 'for' or 'against,'" he said.

In an e-mail to supporters Monday, Eyman shrugged off the results, saying previous Elway polls have underestimated support for earlier supermajority initiatives. An October 2012 poll showed only 49 percent support for I-1185, which passed with 64 percent approval, he said, and a September 2010 poll on I-1053 showed 48 percent support, but it, too, passed with 64 percent.

But a long-term opponent of Eyman initiatives said that's an incomplete history of how his ballot measures and Elway poll results. Andrew Villeneuve, of the Northwest Progressive Institute, said in a prepared statement that a 2011 initiative on tolling and a 2013 initiative to expand the initiative laws were losing support in fall Elway Polls those years and ultimately lost. "The trend is what's important," he said. 

Initiative 1401, which would put new restrictions on ivory and other products made from elephants, rhinos and 10 other endangered animals, had support from about two-thirds of voters surveyed and was opposed by about one-in-four. That's down slightly from the July poll, which put support at 72 percent, but the proposal still had strong majorities across the board, regardless of political party, age, education or income level.


I-1401: nice sentiment but bad law

WILDLIFE — Everyone who appreciates wildlife can appreciate attempts to protect endangered species from poaching, even if the victims are critters halfway around the world from where we live.

But that doesn't mean we have to vote for a law that will do nothing more than be a costly pain in the butt for honest citizens and law enforcement officials alike.

Washington's Initiative 1401 would saddle the state's already understaffed and overburdened Fish and Wildlife police with new responsibilities in monitoring the public as well as state ports, shops and restaurants for ivory and other animal parts killed in other parts of the world.

The United States already has such laws, but I-1401 would take them to extremes, for instance — making grandma's a criminal for selling ivory jewelry she got 50 years ago.

There are definite currents of anti-hunting sentiment in this campaign, which further distracts from the real problem: commercialized poaching.

Microsoft co-owner Paul Allen and other deep-pocket supporters have ponied up millions of dollars to force this bad law on the public and law enforcement. The money would be better spent in the countries where the poaching is underway.

I-1401 backers are spreading the myth that we have the means to enforce technically unfair and tedious legal requirements.

We don't have the enforcement. Our Fish and Wildlife officers already are spread too thin.

I-1401 is another law that threatens law abiding people with "ivory tower" hopes of applying justice to the real international poaching culprits.


Eyman trying to stick to latest initiative, avoid questions over past actions

Initiative impresario Tim Eyman is trying to avoid questions about his past campaign activities as he tries to plug his latest ballot measure.

In an interview with The Seattle Times editorial board this week, he refused to answer any questions about the Public Disclosure Commission investigation into an alleged money shuffle among Eyman, a signature-gathering company and an out-of-state initiative support group. They could ask, he said, but he'd only talk about Initiative 1366, this year's attempt to force the Legislature into approving tax increases with a two-thirds super-majority.

He also reportedly cancelled a scheduled televised debate with the representative of a progressive group that opposes I-1366 on Seattle's KING-TV.

This reticence has not slowed Eyman's e-mails to supporters that talk about I-1366 and double as an effort to raise more money from what he labels as his "thousands of supporters throughout the state."  One arrived in the Inbox this morning, but of course, no mention of the PDC investigation.

It remains to be seen whether his problems will create problems for this year's campaign or for his co-sponsors, Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan and his father, Jack Fagan.

For more about Eyman's problems with the PDC, click here. 

For Shawn Vestal's recent column on the controversy, click here.


Group files initiative to raise cigarette tax, lower college tuition

The group StopTuitionHikes.com filed its proposed ballot initiative with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office yesterday, after making a series of changes to the proposal. It still would raise Idaho’s cigarette tax by $1.50 per pack and use most of the proceeds to lower public college and university tuition for Idaho resident undergraduate students. It also would direct 10 percent of the proceeds from the new tax, estimated at $7 million, to tobacco cessation programs.

Gone are complicated proposals to cap future tuition increases; instead, 80 percent of the proceeds from the new cigarette tax would be applied directly to the tuition bills of undergraduate students at Idaho colleges and universities.  William Moran, who is leading the initiative campaign, said the changes came at the request of colleges and universities and other stakeholders. “We talked to experts and supporters, listened, and we learned,” he said.

Ten percent of the proceeds from the new tax would go to the state Board of Education to allocate to lowering tuition at Idaho’s community and technical colleges.

For university students, the estimated $56 million would lower tuition by 22.7 percent, based on current student numbers. If enrollment increases, the decrease per student would decline; for example, if 10 percent more students enrolled in college, the tuition cut would drop to 20.5 percent. “We kept it flexible while still trying to get students as much as we could,” Moran said.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids reports that the average state cigarette tax is $1.60 per pack; Idaho’s current 57 cent per pack tax ranks 43rd, and is the lowest among surrounding states, with Washington at $3.025 per pack; Utah at $1.70; and Oregon at $1.31. If the initiative passed, Idaho’s tax would be $2.07 per pack.

In 2011, an array of health groups backed bipartisan legislation to raise Idaho’s cigarette tax by $1.25 a pack with the proceeds to go to health care costs related to smoking; they cited a statewide poll showing overwhelming citizen support for up to a $1.50 per pack increase. But the bill failed, with a House committee refusing to hear it both that year and the year after. Backers estimated it’d cut Idaho’s youth smoking rate by 20 percent, while also funding health care.

According to the state Board of Education, Idaho’s public college tuition and fees rose 80 percent from 2004 to 2013. Meanwhile, the share of the state budget going to colleges and universities has dropped from 13.5 percent in 1994 to 8.6 percent in 2015. Tuition and fees covered 7.2 percent of the cost of an Idaho public college education in 1980; it’s 47 percent today.

Wednesday’s filing triggers a review by the Attorney General, after which the group has until April 30 to gather more than 47,000 signatures, including at least 6 percent of voters in each of 18 legislative districts. Moran said he plans to rely on volunteers from college campuses across the state for the signature-gathering.

PDC report says Eyman broke campaign laws

OLYMPIA – Perennial initiative sponsor Tim Eyman could find himself in court over charges he broke campaign finance laws for the way he moved money back and forth in previous initiative efforts.

Some of that money went to Eyman for his personal use, and the transactions were not properly reported under the state campaign laws, Public Disclosure Commission investigators said. They recommend the state attorney general’s office start “appropriate legal action.”

Eyman’s Spokane-based partners, Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan and his father Jack Fagan, in the political action committee Voters Want More Choices, didn’t know about the side deal he had worked out with a signature-gathering organization to funnel money to a separate business he named Tim Eyman, Watchdog for Taxpayers LLC.

“It was a business arrangement between me and – well, between my LLC and Citizen Solutions, and (the Fagans) are not members of that group,” he said during a deposition. Citizen Solution is a company that pays people to collect the signatures to qualify initiatives for the ballot.

The deposition is contained in a staff analysis for two separate complaints against Eyman – some 224 pages of summary, sworn testimony and receipts – paints a picture of a complicated series of payments among different organizations. Even though other officers in Voters Want More Choices didn’t know about the deal between Eyman and Citizen Solutions, it could also face charges for violating campaign disclosure laws.

Eyman is the most public face of initiative campaigns the PAC mounts. But he isn’t allowed to keep the PAC’s books after a 2002 case banned him from serving as treasurer for any campaign committee because he had concealed payments to himself. 

In 2012, Voters Want More Choices paid Citizen Solutions more than $623,000 to collect signatures for Initiative 1185, one of a series of ballot measures the group proposed over a decade that required the Legislature to pass tax increases with a two-thirds super-majority, the PDC report says.. The Association for Washington Business, which functions as a state Chamber of Commerce, paid Citizen Solutions $450,000 and Washington Beer and Wine Wholesalers another $100,000. I-1185 qualified for the November ballot and passed, but the state Supreme Court later ruled it unconstitutional.

Signature gatherers were paid no more than $1.40 per signature, and Citizen Solutions made at least $2.10 per signature, or more than half the $1,050,000 it received, the PDC reported. The company paid Eyman some $308,000 for “consulting” work which was deposited in a separate company called Tim Eyman, Watchdog for Taxpayers LLC.

He told investigators he later loaned some of that money, interest free, to Citizens in Charge, a conservative Virginia group that then funneled at least some of it back into efforts to get signatures for a different ballot measure, Initiative 517, a measure designed to protect signature-gathering efforts and give them more time to qualify for the ballot. It was eventually rejected by voters almost 2-to-1.

Eyman told investigators he received  payments and made loans based on verbal agreements. The money from Citizen Solutions was for “services he would render in the future” directing sponsors of other initiatives their way, he said in a sworn statement. The loans to Citizens in Charge were interest-free and he said he didn’t ask what they would do with it.

The money that wasn’t loaned to the Virginia company and was used for “personal family living expenses”, he said.

PDC investigators say the expenses that were reported as paying for signatures, but in fact were payments to Eyman violate state disclosure laws. Payments to him violate laws against personal use, they added.

The multiple violations are so serious the commission can’t levy adequate penalties, and the commission should send the matter to the attorney general’s office to take the case to court, they said.

Today’s fun fact: It’s World Elephant Day

It's World Elephant Day.

That's not declared by us, but by organizations dedicated to trying to keep elephants from disappearing from the face of the Earth. They are trying to draw attention to the declining number of elephants in the wild.

It's also being touted by the Initiative 1401 campaign, which is asking voters to toughen Washington laws on products from threatened and endangered animals. They have elephant-themed events in Seattle and Tacoma to mark the day.

Sunday Spin 2: This seems familiar

In what may be considered a mid-summer ritual, an initiative sponsored by Tim Eyman qualified last week for the November ballot and was denounced by his ardent detractors. Eyman comes up with some initiative or another every year – it’s his business, after all – and his opponents stay exercised by pointing out what’s wrong with them.

This year he wants to force the Legislature into sending voters a constitutional amendment next year that would require legislators to approve tax increases with a two-thirds super-majority.

Such an amendment would have to pass both chambers by that same super-majority. Because it is difficult to force the Legislature to do anything with a simple majority, let alone the higher standard, Initiative 1366 contains a gun-to-the-head provision. The state sales tax would be dropped by 1 cent per dollar if the Legislature doesn’t comply. That’s a hit of more than $1 billion a year to the state’s coffers.

Within 24 hours of the petition signatures being certified, opponents were asking a court to keep the initiative off the ballot. This is a common, but rarely successful, strategy because the Supreme Court usually declines to rule on the legality of an initiative unless voters pass it. Until that happens, it is what Joey Tribbiani of “Friends” used to call a “moo point”, that is, it’s like a cow’s opinion; it doesn’t matter. 

Latest Eyman initiative will be on November ballot

OLYMPIA — Initiative impresario Tim Eyman's latest effort to make it harder for the Legislature to raise taxes will be on the fall ballot.

State election officials said Wednesday Initiative 1366 has more than enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot, and will join Initiative 1401, which would give added protections to certain endangered species.

I-1366 attempts to force the Legislature to send voters a constitutional amendment that would require super-majorities from each chamber to approve any new tax increase. The initiative is sponsored by Voters Want More Choices, an organization operated by Eyman and two associates from Spokane, Mike Fagan and Jack Fagan. 

Voters have approved previous initiatives by Eyman’s organization that demanded super-majorities in the Legislature for new taxes. But the Supreme Court threw out the most recent such initiative, saying that kind of change requires a constitutional amendment, which must originate in the Legislature not with the initiative process. A constitutional amendment must be passed with a two-thirds majority in each chamber, followed by voter approval with a simple majority.

Under I-1366, the Legislature would have to pass such an amendment by next April 15, or the state sales tax would drop from 6.5 cents to 5.5 cents on the dollar. That would cut state revenue by about $1 billion per year.

Endangered species initiative to be on ballot

OLYMPIA — Washington voters will decide this fall whether the state should crack down on people who traffic in endangered animals.

Initiative 1401 has more than enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot, the Secretary of State's office said Wednesday afternoon. Supporters had turned in about 100,000 more signatures than the minimum needed to qualify for the ballot, and the random check of signatures chosen by a computer showed an error rate of about 14 percent, which is lower than the average of 18 percent in recent years.

If approved by voters, the initiative would outlaw the sale of a wide array of protected animal species, or their parts, including elephants, rhinoceroses, tigers and other large felines, marine turtles, sharks and rays. Sale of the animals or their parts would be a gross misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances. 

The campaign committee has raised some $2 million, most of it from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and spent $1.5 million so far, mostly on paying people to collect signatures.


No Eyman initiative this year

OLYMPIA — Initiative entrepreneur Tim Eyman will not have a measure on this fall's ballot.

Eyman informed supporters today that he and his associates, Spokanites Mike and Jack Fagan, will not be turning in signatures for Initiative 1325, an effort to force the Legislature into sending voters a constitutional amendment for a super-majority to raise taxes. Today is the deadline for signatures to go to the Secretary of State's office.

In an e-mail, Eyman said the campaign worked really hard, but fell short because qualifying for the ballot is "brutally difficult". It also promises to work harder next time. It also contends that just the threat of I-1325 "was incredibly effective in deterring the Legislature from raising taxes this year."

Well, that and the fact the Legislature's two chambers were controlled by different parties that agreed on almost nothing when it comes to taxes.

 The e-mail, like most Eyman missives to supporters, doubles as an appeal for money. The post script that says "Please don't forget about us. Jack, Mike and I only earn what our supporters decide to give" and offers a link to the website where contributions can by made by PayPal or credit card.

I-1325 was one of six versions of the the supermajority proposal that Eyman and company filed this year. Longtime Eyman critic Andrew Villeneuve of the Northwest Progressive Institute predicted they wouldn't make the ballot about a week ago, noting the signature effort for I-1325 seemed non-existent and the campaign was not spending money for paid signature-gatherers. 

Class-size initiative supporters say they have enough signatures

OLYMPIA — Supporters of a ballot measure that would reduce class sizes in public schools say they're confident the proposal will be on the November ballot after turning in more than 325,000 signatures this morning.

The Secretary of State's office will still have to check petitions before certifying Initiative 1351 for the ballot, but the cushion of signatures supporters collected means they will go through an expedited process unless major problems turn up.

I-1351 would require the Legislature to reduce class sizes across the state in Kindergarten through Grade 3, and other grades in "defined  high-poverty schools."  It tells the Legislature to pay for the reductions, phased in over the next four years, but does not specify if that would be by raising taxes or cutting other programs or both.

Sunday Spin: Initiative fights continue after elections end

OLYMPIA – For a political reporter, state initiatives have become gifts that just keep on giving.

There have always been plenty of unusual ideas for ballot measures that crop up every spring, sort of like dandelions in the political lawn, and knock-down campaign battles over the few that collect enough signatures to make the ballot.

Some measures manage to remain controversial long after voters approve or reject them. . . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.


WA Lege: Gun initiatives getting hearing Wednesday

OLYMPIA — Two initiatives dealing with gun rights and gun control will get a hearing next Wednesday in the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Both are initiatives to the Legislature. I-594, which would extend the current background checks for buyers required for sales from gun dealers to almost all other sales, was certified Wednesday by the Secretary of State's office after a check of signatures submitted late last year. I-591, which would ban stricter background checks in Washington until federal standards changed, is undergoing signature checks but is expected also to easily certify.

The Legislature is unlikely to pass either into law, bypassing the ballot. But Committee Chairman Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said a hearing will give legislators and the public a chance to get questions answered. "That helps us and it can only help to inform the voters," he said.

The 1:30 p.m. hearing will be moved out of the committee's regular room into a larger room to accommodate the expected crowd.


Gun initiatives headed for Lege

OLYMPIA — The Legislature almost certainly will have two chances to enact gun legislation in the upcoming session.

It will almost just as certainly ignore both, and pass the question on to voters.

Supporters of Initiative 594 turned in an estimated 95,000 additional signatures this week for their proposal the extend background checks to most private sales of firearms. Along with the 250,000 or so signatures turned in last fall, that would give them 345,000 signatures, and they only need 246,372.

Supporters of Initiative 591, which would keep the state from expanding background checks until a "uniform national standard" is developed expect to turn in about 5,000 signatures today to go with the 340,000 they submitted in late November.

There's no prize for having the most signatures, but we can expect a certain amount of bragging rights. In both cases, it seems likely the two proposals will be certified by the Secretary of State's elections office through the expedited process that ballot measures with well over the standard rejection rate have.

The initiatives would then be forwarded to the Legislature, which has several options:

— Ignore both, which would put them on the ballot in November.

— Reject both, which would also put them on the ballot in November.

— Pass one one but not the other. The passed initiative would become law, the other would go on the November ballot.

— Pass both into law. That could be a problem because in some respects they are conflicting, but legislators could leave that to the courts to sort out.

— Pass an alternative bill on gun control, which would put three proposals on the topic on the November ballot.

Based on the options, and the Legislature's track record with initiatives that are sent its way, smart money would be on "ignore both".   

Sunday Spin2: New definition of victory?

In elections, victory is usually well-defined. You got the most votes. Period.

So it was a bit odd Thursday to get a post-election email from initiative guru Tim Eyman describing the results of the election as “7 measures, 7 votes, 7 victories". . . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

GMO labeling measure losing steam?

The onslaught of commercials castigating Initiative 522, the genetically engineered food labeling measure on the November ballot, may be taking their toll.

A new survey by The Elway Poll shows support for I-522 has dropped precipitously in the last month. In September, about two-thirds of voters surveyed said they supported the measure, which requires many foods bought at the store to carry labels if they have genetically modified ingredients. Only about one voter in five opposed it.

In the latest poll, that support is down to 46 percent, and opposition up to 42 percent. With the poll's margin of error at 5 percent, that's a statistical tie. More concerning for supporters could be that it has dipped below 50 percent support, because undecided voters tend to vote No if they remain undecided at the point they must cast their ballots.

The Seattle Times broke down the Elway Poll numbers this week. King TV had similar results from a separate poll.

The latest Public Disclosure Commission reports show the No campaign, funded in large part by Monsanto, DuPont and large food and beverage companies contributing to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, have spent about $13.5 million. The Yes campaign, which has collected large amounts from some natural food and cosmetic product companies, but also has hundreds of small donations from Washington and around the country, has spent about $5.4 million.


Sunday spin: Initiative predictions usually wrong

Opponents of two proposed charter changes for Spokane won their fight to keep the initiatives away from voters when Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno on Friday barred them from the November ballot.

Cue the huge sighs of relief from the home builders and various nice-sounding organizations fronting for local businesses. The groups insisted the two proposals were illegal and “if enacted they would have cause serious harm to Spokane and our economy,” Michael Cathcart, government affairs director for the home builders said shortly after Moreno ruled.

An appeal is possible, so this might be hashed out for months. But if anything is certain about initiatives it is their very uncertainty. Dire predictions by opponents of what a particular ballot measure will do are almost always off target. . .

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

Sunday Spin: Initiative sponsors go 0 for 84

OLYMPIA – Friday was a rare day in Washington state politics, although it went mostly unnoticed because it was rare for what didn’t happen rather than what did.

It was the deadline to turn in signatures for an initiative to the people to put on the November ballot an idea some would deem brilliant and others ridiculous. No one turned any in. . .

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

Sunday Spin: When they try to buy our votes, shouldn’t they buy other local things too?

OLYMPIAWashington is developing into THE PLACE for interest groups of every political stripe to try out their ballot initiative.

From gun control to same-sex marriage to legalized marijuana, national organizations have decided they love a state big enough to test out their legislation on a diverse population, but small enough to have relatively few media markets (the term campaign types use for cities) and relatively affordable ad rates.

Thus we see corporate agriculture and the organic food industry preparing to spend millions on a food labeling initiative. They’ll likely subscribe to the Costco theory of ballot politics, which says that if you spend enough money, and try enough times, you can convince Washington voters to pass almost anything.

It’s not a terrible thing have outside interests using their money trying to tell Washington voters what to do…


To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream to back I-522

One of the founders of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream said today his Vermont-based company will back a Washington initiative to require all foods to be labeled if they contain genetically modified ingredients.

Jerry Greenfield said Wednesday the company would give away "tons" of ice cream, send its "Scoop Truck" to Seattle and put up billboards in support of Initiative 522. The company's web site said the truck was scheduled to be in Seattle from mid August to mid September promoting its Greek frozen yogurt.

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

Most money for I-522 from outside WA

OLYMPIA – Out-of-state money pouring into the campaign coffers of this fall’s initiative to require labeling of genetically modified food products make clear that Washington will once again be a battleground state for progressive causes.

Supporters of Initiative 522, which would require any product sold in Washington stores to say if it contains genetically altered substances, have raised nearly $2 million for various campaign organizations. Three-fourths of it came from businesses or people outside Washington who won’t be voting on the measure this fall.

“It’s part of a national movement,” Liz Larter, a spokeswoman for the Yes on I-522 campaign, said of efforts to require consumers be told if their products contain modified ingredients. But Washington is likely to be the only state where the battle will be joined at the ballot box this fall after a similar measure failed last year in California. . .

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Eyman, Fagans try new route to 2/3 tax votes


Mike Fagan, Tim Eyman and Jack Fagan, left to right,  to file an electronic copy of their new initiative at the Secretary of State's office Wednesday. After several attempts, they wound up submitting a paper copy and paying the $5 filing fee.

OLYMPIA – Unable to ask voters again to approve an initiative requiring supermajority approval of tax increases, a trio of self-described tax fighters will try to prod the Legislature into putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

Perennial initiative sponsors Tim Eyman of Mukilteo and Mike Fagan and Jack Fagan of Spokane filed an initiative Wednesday that would require a public vote on any tax increase, a one-year limit on any new tax, and an advisory vote on whether voters should get to vote on a constitutional amendment that requires the Legislature pass any tax increase with a two-thirds majority.

The initiative comes with an “escape clause” which says if the Legislature puts that constitutional amendment up to a public vote, other provisions go away. . . 

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1 year for initiatives to get signatures? How about 2 years?

OLYMPIA – As state law enforcement officials began investigating more than 8,000 allegedly forged signatures for a pair of ballot measures, a legislative panel looked at changes to the century-old avenue for grass-roots democracy, the initiative process.

One suggestion the Senate Governmental Operations Committee aired out Thursday: Give initiative campaigns more time to circulate petitions.

“If we give citizens more time to get involved, you wouldn’t need paid signature gatherers,” Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, said. . .

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Initiative on initiatives clears signature hurdle

OLYMPIA — An initiative designed to make changes in the state's initiative law has enough signatures to be sent to the Legislature.

As expected, the Secretary of State's office cleared Initiative 517 for the next step, which is a decision by the Legislature whether to pass it or let it go to the voters in November, either by itself or with an alternative.

I-517 comes from Tim Eyman and his allies, and would set up penalties for harassing signature gatherers, require that all ballot measures that have enough signatures appear on the ballot, and extend the time for gathering signatures from six months to a year.

Under current law, initiatives to the people are filed no earlier than January of the year in which they will appear on the ballot, giving supporters until the end of June, or about six months, to gather signatures. I-517 would allow proposed initiatives to be filed in June of the year prior to the election, and give them through June of the election  year to gather signatures.  

Latest Eyman initiative topic: Initiatives

OLYMPIA – Almost every year for more than a decade, Washington’s premier proponent of initiatives, Tim Eyman, has had a ballot measure to promote, and 2013 is no exception. This year’s initiative topic: initiatives.

Eyman and other supporters of Initiative 517 filed petitions with more than 345,000 signatures Thursday for a proposal that would make changes to the state’s initiative law. It would set penalties for anyone harassing a signature gatherer, allow signatures to be gathered at the entrance to any store or inside or outside any public building, and add an extra six months to the signature-gathering process.

Initiatives to the people can now be as early as January for a general election in November, but the petitions must be turned in by early July for signatures to be checked and counted for validation. Processing the proposal before it’s ready to print petitions so signatures can be gathered can take weeks, so the practical time for gathering signatures is often five months or less. I-517 would allow initiatives to be filed as early as July of the year before the election, essentially giving a campaign up to a year to gather signatures.

I-517 has about 100,000 more signatures than the minimum requirement, which makes it all but certain of being validated. It would go first to the Legislature, where it could be passed into law. The Legislature could also reject it, which would put it on the general election ballot, or pass an alternative, which would put both proposals before voters in November. 

GMO food labeling initiative likely headed to ballot

Supporters of I-522 wheel signed petitions into the Secretary of State's offfice on Thursday.

OLYMPIA — The state's voters are likely to be asked next ffice.all whether food that contains genetically modified organisms must say so on its label to be sold in Washington.

Supporters of a ballot measure to require such labels filed petitions with an estimated 350,000 signatures Thursday, more than 100,000 more than required to qualify an initiative to the Legislature. If the signatures pass inspection, it will be sent to the Legislature during the upcoming session.

Supporters like Chris McManus of University Place, who managed the signature drive, said the proposal is simply about informing the public. . .

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More signatures needed for initiatives

OLYMPIA — The turnout was down slightly in Washington state compared to the 2008 presidential election, but the number of ballots cast was up.

That means the number of signatures needed for initiatives and referenda goes up next year.

Huh? We explain inside the blog. Click here to read more, or to comment.

I-1183 boosts liquor sales — in Idaho

Washington voters probably didn’t intend it, but they gave at least a temporary economic boost to Idaho liquor stores when taking their state out the booze business last year by passing Initiative 1183.
In June, the first month that I-1183 closed Washington’s state-owned liquor stores and raised the overall price of distilled spirits in the private outlets that took their place, Idaho state liquor stores just across the border saw more Evergreen State license plates in their parking lots and a jump in business.
The two Post Falls liquor stores saw a 58 percent increase in sales for June 2012 compared to the previous June, said Jeff Anderson, director of the Idaho State Liquor Division. Between Lewiston and Oldtown, the eight Idaho liquor stores just across the border are up 33 percent overall, or a total of $560,000.
“The numbers are a bit skewed,” Anderson said . . .

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