Wenatchee World urges a no vote on 517: “A legal pedestal for signature gatherers is neither necessary nor egalitarian”

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Yet another major Washington State newspaper has come out against Tim Eyman’s Initiative 517. In an editorial published earlier today, the Wenatchee World offered a cogent analysis of I-517, dissecting proponents’ arguments and rejecting them as unsound. As publisher Rufus King and his editorial board noted, I-517 is really about giving petitioners special rights that nobody else would have.

The collectors of initiative signatures have a right to petition the government, they have a right to free speech, but that just makes them like everybody else. It does not make them a class of the anointed, separated by privilege. Exercising their right does not give them powers and protections beyond those of ordinary citizens. It does not give them the right to violate the rights of others. It does not make them a protected class.

The Bill of Rights grants every American the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances, while state law stipulates that harassment of anyone is illegal. Tim Eyman, Eddie Agazarm, Paul Jacob and Mark Baerwaldt know this, but they want to make the initiative business easier and cheaper.

Every provision in I-517 was written to make pursuing initiatives at the state and local level (even invalid or unconstitutional initiatives) more lucrative and rewarding. I-517 purports to protect the rights of petitioners, but it’s really a¬†Help initiative profiteers make even more profits initiative.

Section 2 of I-517 was conceived to ensure that paid, out of state petitioners could set up shop right in front of store entrances and exits and intercept shoppers, but initiative opponents could not stand next to them with a “think before you ink” message. Decline to sign campaigns would be criminalized.

The mechanism? I-517 says that no one can maintain an “intimidating presence” within twenty-five feet of a petitioner. What constitutes an “intimidating presence?” The initiative doesn’t define these words, but presumably if a petitioner calls up the police and says, “I feel threatened”, that’s grounds for the initiative opponent to be arrested, or asked to leave. Law enforcement would be required under I-517 to “vigorously protect” petitioners, but not initiative opponents.

This doesn’t make sense, nor is it fair. The World says:

Imagine, pass I-517 and a store owner with distinct and protected property rights and a uniform set of rules could prohibit a charitable solicitor from setting up at his door, or a religious pamphleteer, or a political candidate seeking votes, but not a petition signature collector. The managers of a convention center, fairgrounds or stadium, can set rules for public conduct in their facilities, but signatures gatherers would be exempt, because Initiative 517 says they shall not be deterred. They have super rights.

We agree. We strongly urge a NO vote on I-517 this fall.

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