OLYMPIA – Last week presented voters with an interesting array of initiatives for the November ballot as sponsors turned in signatures for measures on gun control, grocery taxes and carbon fees, and the Supreme Court considers one or two more on the police use of deadly force. Washington residents might think we have pretty much swept the shelves clean of things some people wanted the rest of us to vote on.
But they would be wrong. The three initiatives that turned in boatloads of signatures – the official measurement that signifies they got way more than they need to qualify – as well as the measure tied up in court, merely scratch the surface of some citizens’ creative minds.
Over the course of about five months, 84 initiatives to the people were filed with the secretary of state, almost half of them by perennial initiative entrepreneur Tim Eyman and Spokane cohorts, Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan and his father, Jack Fagan.
If initiatives can be seen as a vehicle for righting a wrong that agitates voters, Eyman and the Fagans are all shook up about many things, from gas taxes to income taxes to food taxes to carbon taxes to head taxes. We may be detecting a theme here. They also filed initiatives on some old favorites, like whether voters should get to vote on taxes, and whether car license tab fees should be limited to $30.
They took a shot at term limits for city and county officeholders – which local voters can often decide for themselves, as Councilman Fagan well knows – and several iterations of a measure to require the Legislature to cough up its public records.
Despite all this fishing for an initiative that could generate public support and an influx of donations, Eyman & Co. had to abandon the ballot initiative chase and turn their attention to the Legislature, which gives them until December to collect signatures, and possibly donations.
Yet Eyman apparently was jonesing for the adrenaline rush that comes with turning in signatures for the early July deadline. He held a press event across the street from the secretary of state’s office around the same time as the gun control initiative campaign was showing off its last batch of petitions.
Although Eyman floats the most initiative trial balloons, he is not the sole launcher of statutory zeppelins. Others have taken a page from his book and filed several versions of the same idea, trying to get one that can pass legal muster. A Seattle woman filed six versions of an effort to force high-income households to pay the same percentage of their income in state taxes as middle- and low-income households. The idea may have a certain egalitarian ring, but it would be difficult to accomplish in a state without an income tax.
An Auburn woman took four swings at legalizing Affirmative Action, which was basically outlawed by an initiative in 1998.
A group based in Spokane tried to get a state single-payer health care system on the ballot, and got enough signatures to make an appointment to turn in petitions before the deadline, but later called the secretary of state’s office to cancel because they had fallen short.
A Malden woman thought it would be a good idea to get rid of the state bar association. A Silverdale man wanted tougher penalties for sex offenders, including a sign outside their home that says, “A rapist lives here,” and the death penalty for repeat offenders. A Selah man thought people shouldn’t need a Discover Pass or any other permit to access or park on state recreation lands. A Bremerton man wanted voters to get rid of Gun-Free Zone signs at schools and let employees with a concealed pistol permit come to school packing if they’ve had safety training and give the principal a heads-up.
An Olympia woman’s suggestion that the state should let the homeless camp on the Capitol campus as a way of forcing the Legislature to make “smart decisions” on the issue similarly expired for lack of follow-up. But requiring the Legislature to make smart decisions may be beyond the power of an initiative.
Marijuana, which was legalized by initiative, was also a topic: A Tukwila man thought the sale or production should be outlawed in residential zones. A Seattle man thought it should be legal to grow and process up to a pound of pot at home.
An Olympia man tried to find a winner with four initiatives filed over two days – repealing all excise, sales, gas and business and occupation taxes; getting rid of any need to license the growing, consumption, distribution or fermenting of any plant or fungus; dropping the state minimum wage to $7 an hour and getting rid of all those taxes; and changing the rules for initiatives. He wanted to drop the number of signatures needed to qualify for the ballot to 1 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election, not the current 8 percent.
None went anywhere. If that last one had made it on the ballot and passed, there’s no telling how many initiatives we’d have on the 2019 ballot.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.