I figured Tim Eyman must have almost had a stroke the other day when he found his right to launch initiatives defended by the biggest (and super liberal) newspaper in the state, the Seattle Times.
Not so. Actually, he told me, editorial writers in the states newspapers have been very good about resisting efforts, in and out of the Legislature, to repeal or cripple the initiative process. Even when the initiative under attack is not endorsed by them.
The latest assault is by the Service Employees International Union 775 and Futurewise, an environmentalist group formerly known as 1000 Friends of Washington, who filed suit to knock Initiative 960 off the November ballot.
I-960 makes it tougher for the state to raise taxes. It would require a two-thirds vote in the state House and Senate or voter approval for all tax increases. New or increased fees would require prior legislative approval. An advisory vote would have to be taken on any new or increased taxes enacted by the legislature without voter approval. And the Office of Financial Management would be required to publish information regarding legislators voting records on increasing fees or taxes.
The union and Futurewise have asked the courts to prohibit a public vote on I-960, even if Tim and his group get the necessary 225,000 valid signatures by the July 6 deadline.
Their reasoning? Not only do both groups depend on state revenues to operate, they said in their legal brief, theyd have to spend money to oppose it if it makes the ballot. Their members would suffer. The poor babies.
Fortunately, Attorney General Rob McKenna is on the job defending citizens rights, and he lambasted both groups for ignoring the 9-0 unanimous ruling by the state Supreme Court in 2005 that stated such a challenge is not allowed in this state, because of the constitutional preeminence of the right of initiative. Because ballot measures are often used to express popular will and to send a message to elected representatives (regardless of potential subsequent invalidation of the measure), substantive preelection review may also unduly infringe on free speech values.
Justice Jim Johnson wrote that 2005 opinion. You remember him. He represented United Property Owners for years before he went on the court.
Anyway, the Times backed up McKenna in an editorial that said Careful, Initiative Tampering is Dangerous. …We may join the groups in opposing the initiative, said the Times, but we believe their lawsuit should fail because it would undermine the rights of the people to petition their government.
Bully for the Times, and for Eyman, who keeps carrying on after some low points in his career. Eight anti-initiative bills were introduced during the 2007 legislative session, he said, and newspapers helped defeat them.
But newspapers usually dont like initiatives, I said. They dont want people writing laws unless its to raise money for schools or something.
They dont like individual initiatives, Eyman said. They are for the initiative process itself. The people have a right to speak. If the government takes away the right of the people to speak, whos next? Taking away the medias right to speak? Its a Pandoras Box. Newspapers have, in recent years, recognized that our initiatives are becoming more mainstream. The one requiring audits may have been the tipping point. Accountability, accountability, accountability.
Well, I hope the Supreme Court is listening.
Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA, 982340.
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