Off the Press

October 5, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Failed initiatives feature tapeworm, ninja gear

The list of numbers on the November ballot reads a little bit like a secret code ready to be cracked: 1053, 1082, 1098, 1100. I could continue.

The nine initiatives, resolutions and the referendum on the ballot contain something for everybody: tax hikes, tax rollbacks, liquor, funding for “green” schools, tougher bail rules for dangerous felons and liquor (again).

Now, as enthralling as industrial insurance and the state debt limit can be — Initiative 1082 and Senate Joint Resolution 8225 for everyone keeping score — some of the measures missing from the ballot seemed more compelling.

Warren Kagarise Press reporter

Take, for instance, a bland-sounding push to redesign the state seal.

Initiative 1609 aimed to yank George Washington from the state seal and replace the founding father with a tapeworm attached to, ahem, the backside of a taxpayer.

Or Initiative 1109, a proposed ban on martial arts weapons in schools and colleges. Call me ignorant, but I had no idea nunchucks and ninja-style throwing stars had become so rife on Evergreen State campuses.

Though neither proposal reached the ballot, I became curious about the process to put the measures before the electorate.

Backers speak in reverent tones about how the process is rooted in a noble tradition of using the ballot to enforce the will of the people.

Critics scowl and claim the process could turn Washington into a ballot-measure-mad state, like Oregon or, God forbid, California.

So, to learn more about the Evergreen State initiative process, I turned to the authority: Tim Eyman.

The love-him-or-loathe-him citizen activist and initiative guru said the process has more built-in safeguards than the other generator of state law: the Legislature.

Backers need to gather signatures based on the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election — 241,153 for initiatives and 120,557 for referenda — and, oh yeah, a $5 filing fee.

“Bills in Olympia, though, you don’t have to spend anything,” Eyman said in a phone chat. “At least we’ve got some buffer on these ideas, at least we’ve got to pony up five bucks.”

I asked Eyman if the initiative process has too much potential to be abused for frivolous proposals in the mold of good-bye, President Washington and hello, Mr. Tapeworm.

“I would pair the crazies in the electorate versus the crazies in Olympia,” Eyman replied. “I think in that competition, I’m not sure if I’d bet against either one of them about who could come up with a crazier idea.”

Secretary of State Sam Reed, the top elections officer in the state and another expert on the initiative process, said the process has served Washington well since mad-as-hell voters pushed the measure through the Legislature in 1912.

“The goal is for the people to be able to act when they feel the Legislature isn’t being responsive to them,” Reed said in a phone chat.

But the crusade to put something on the ballot pales in comparison to the battle to convince — or arm-twist, if necessary — people to vote for a measure.

“Assuming you even get that far,” Eyman said, “then you have the privilege of getting the stuffing kicked out of you for four months while everybody says what a stupid frickin’ idea that is.”

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