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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control: Initiative opponents, right or not, get win

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

Cue the huge sighs of relief from the homebuilders and various nice-sounding organizations fronting for local businesses. The groups insisted the two proposals were illegal and “if enacted they would have caused serious harm to Spokane and our economy,” Michael Cathcart, government affairs director for the homebuilders, 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 uncertainty. Dire predictions by opponents of what a particular ballot measure will do are almost always off target.

Consider last year’s Referendum 74, by which voters ratified the Legislature’s decision to allow same-sex marriage. Opponents predicted all manner of catastrophe would befall the institution of marriage should Washington allow men to marry men and women to marry women.

Nearly eight months later, there’s no indication that marriage is in the institutional Dumpster. In Spokane, at least, just the opposite seems true. Spokane County reported recently a 22 percent increase in requests for marriage licenses in July compared to July 2012.

Anyone paying the slightest attention to the public records columns in the daily paper, where the names of those receiving licenses are listed, probably guessed this. They may have noticed an influx of applicants from out of state, many of them the same gender. Careful readers also may have noticed a certain number of couples who may be of the same gender or may be one of each because so many names have become unisex. The one sure thing about Referendum 74’s passage is that one can no longer assume anything about certain combinations of names in the records.

Despite the huge spike in same-sex licenses the first few days after the law went into effect, a regular read of the records column reveals most are the ho-hum variety of one member from each gender. The statewide breakdown between same-sex and opposite-sex licenses won’t be available until late this year, but it’s safe to say that newly legal unions don’t account for all of the big jump in July.

It could be an anomaly. It could be driven by demographics as millennials reach the point where at least one of the pair decides its time to pitch or get off the spot. Whatever the cause, the institution of marriage shows no signs of collapse.

Getting married is only the beginning of the institution, of course. Staying married is what takes work, as the newlyweds of all types will learn. We’ll need to wait years for definitive data on divorces.

Marriage might be described with the same phrase as the gas mileage statistics for new cars: Individual results may vary. If yours is foundering, however, it’s probably not because voters allowed the gay couple down the street to get hitched.

Another example of bad forecasting came from some opponents of the initiative to end the state’s control of liquor distribution and sales. They were sure it would lead to increases in alcohol-related arrests and accidents. That doesn’t appear to be the case so far, as Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center reported recently.

Washington State Patrol statistics show drops in DUI collisions and DUI arrests in the year after the state got out of the booze business. There were fewer arrests for open container violations, minor in possession and providing liquor to minors.

This despite a 6 percent increase in the amount of liquor sold in stores around the state. Helping to cut DUIs may be the 13 percent drop in alcohol sold in bars and restaurants. Tax collections are higher than predicted, and about $21 million higher than the previous year, when the state controlled the sales.

Short takes from last week’s blog

• The state Department of Natural Resources has new videos to convince residents to buy Discover Passes to use parks and other state lands. They feature an even worse use of a Sasquatch than the Wheat Thins commercial.

• Former Spokane Mayor John Talbott was in the news in the Tri-Cities. He was escorted out of the Pasco City Council meeting by police when he wouldn’t stop talking after the mayor told him to wrap it up.

• The New York Times dropped by Spokane to write about the coal train controversy.

Spin Control, by political reporter Jim Camden, appears as a weekly column and daily blog at blogs/spincontrol.