Failure of Tim Eyman’s I-807 is a great moment for Washington State

Essay At A Glance

Stop the presses. Tim Eyman has just failed again — spectacularly.

For the first time in five years, the Mukilteo-based initiative purveyor won’t have anything on Washington’s November ballot. The deadline to submit signatures for initiatives to the people for 2003 has come and gone without Eyman making an appointment to turn in any signatures, because the signature drive for his latest bad idea, I-807, ended in failure.

The implosion of I-807 comes on the heels of the court ruling invalidating Initiative 776 (the verdict has been appealed to the state Supreme Court) and the demise of I-267, which, like I-807, collapsed when Eyman could not find the money to finance a paid signature drive. With the demise of I-807, Eyman has now suffered his third consecutive failure.

Since he admitted to pocketing large sums of campaign funds for his own personal use last year, Eyman’s operation has been stumbling through a rough patch. Fundraising didn’t go well during the spring, forcing Eyman to attempt to rely on volunteers rather than buy his way onto the ballot with paid petitioners. Eyman also had to spend a lot of money replacing defective petitions. That put a drain on his crimped financial resources. Unlike the Building Industry Association of Washington, which has deep pockets thanks to its abuse of L&I’s “retro rebate” program, Eyman has only what his supporters send him. This year, they didn’t send him anywhere near as much as in previous years. Ever since Eyman’s big lie, his support has been decreasing.

Eyman’s 2002 initiative (I-776) barely passed last November, and he had a head start fundraising for that initiative before having to admit embezzling supporters’ donations. I-807 was originally termed by Eyman in December of 2002 as a “wildly popular” idea. In fact, Eyman started promoting I-807 before the final votes were in for Initiative 776. Six months later, Eyman was characterizing his “wildly popular” idea as “the most challenging initiative we’ve ever done.”

Even before throwing in the towel on I-807, Eyman shifted his focus from raising money to get on the ballot to raising money for himself, asking followers to make out checks to “Tim Eyman, Taxpayer Advocate”. And he kept on shamelessly shaking his electronic tin cup after admitting that I-807 would fail make the ballot.

To divert attention from the failing 807 campaign and to get his name back in the Washington media, Eyman has announced a new initiative he plans to qualify for 2004: a scheme to cut property taxes by 25%. Eyman has openly proclaimed that he wants revenge on lawmakers for daring to raise revenue to improve the state’s roads this past session. But it’s Washington’s youth who would pay the price, because the state property tax levy is exclusively dedicated public schools.

Schoolchildren represent one-sixth of Washington’s population. Eyman and his dwindling band of supporters are pitting themselves against Washington’s kids, whose families already face the difficult prospect of trying to finance their college education. If we don’t empower our youth to succeed, they will not develop the skills and the talents necessary to keep our state’s economy strong and innovative. We must ensure Eyman’s nefarious scheme for 2004 meets the same fate as I-807. It should land in Washington State’s political graveyard, where it belongs.

As we prepare for next year, we can take solace in the failure of I-807. For the first time in many years, voters won’t have to face a Tim Eyman initiative. There will be no initiative for courts to throw out next winter, and thus no court ruling for Eyman to denounce in order to whip up his base. Tim will have to start from scratch.

Voters increasingly understand that if they want quality, essential public services, they will have to pay for them. Libraries, police, fire, healthcare, parks, and education aren’t free. They all have to be paid for. Slapping handcuffs on lawmakers and slashing funding for services worsens the problem and creates a massive headache. Militant libertarians like Eyman then pin the blame on lawmakers who are trying to clean up their messes.

Elected officials and concerned Washingtonians can breathe a sigh of relief that Tim Eyman won’t have something on the ballot this November. But I-807’s failure doesn’t mean Eyman is permanently out of business. He’ll be back with another scheme next year that will need to be resolutely opposed.

A democracy cannot survive without an educated populace. To protect Washington’s future, we need to do a better job explaining the cost and consequences of destructive right wing initiatives, so voters across our great state understand the implications of the harmful measures the likes of Eyman cook up.

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