Tim Eyman’s “analysis” of initiative-related bills and amendments isn’t to be trusted

Legislation & TestimonyRethinking and ReframingStatements & Advisories

Throughout the past week and a half, Tim Eyman has been sending a flurry of emails to his followers and the media decrying proposals in the Legislature to change the initiative process, particularly Senate Joint Resolution 8201 and House Joint Resolution 4204, which would amend the Constitution to prevent Washingtonians from filing initiatives that do not fiscally balance.

We have reviewed the contents of these messages and found them riddled with statements that are lacking context or inaccurate. Eyman’s commentary is, in a word, sloppy. We urge reporters and producers to do their own research and not rely on any of Eyman’s emails for information about SJR 8201, HJR 4204, or any of the other bills Eyman is attacking.

Here are a few examples of what we mean when we say sloppy:

EYMAN CLAIM: “Thanks to your emails, Olympia’s anti-initiative bills are imploding… Amid all-out mutiny, Sen. Joe Fain abandons constitutional amendment attacking initiative process” (Eyman email, Friday, January 30th, 2015)

MISSING CONTEXT: Eyman would no doubt like to be credited with stopping SJR 8201 and HJR 4204 in their tracks, but what he doesn’t acknowledge is that these resolutions aren’t just opposed by him and his followers. Secretary of Kim Wyman’s office strongly opposes SJR 8201 and HJR 4204, as does the Northwest Progressive Institute (see our analysis from last Friday, which looks at three fatal flaws in SJR 8201 in-depth). The truth is, SJR 8201 and HJR 4204 are unworkable, and that’s why neither is likely to even get a public hearing.

OLYMPIA IS A CITY, NOT THE STATE LEGISLATURE: Tim Eyman is very fond of using Olympia as a metonym for the state Legislature and state government – as are others active in Washington State politics. However, as Olympia blogger Emmett O’Connell notes, Olympia is a city of nearly fifty thousand people that happens to be the home of the Capitol Campus. While it is entirely appropriate for a story about state government to use a byline bearing the city’s name, we encourage reporters and commentators not to use Olympia as a metonym for state government. In many situations, the word statehouse works rather well as a substitute.

EYMAN CLAIM: “There’s a new bill this year House Bill 1228 — co-sponsored by R’s and D’s — that requires the state budget office (OFM) to do a fiscal analysis of any initiative that qualifies for the ballot and requires their fiscal report to be printed in the voters pamphlet.  Sounds reasonable, right?  Who can be against that? The problem? It’s already the law.” (Eyman email, Thursday, January 29th, 2015)

THIS IS IN ERROR: Tim Eyman may have been fooled into thinking that HB 1228 restates current law by reading its official description (Requiring fiscal impact statements for ballot measures). But if he had bothered to read through the text of the bill carefully (PDF), he would have discovered that what the bill actually does is require proponents and opponents of initiatives to respond to OFM’s initiative fiscal impact statement for their arguments in the voter’s pamphlet. Section 2 of HB 1228 adds the following phrase to RCW 29A.32.060 and 2003 c 111 s 806:

Committees shall write and submit arguments advocating the approval or rejection of each statewide ballot issue ((and)), rebuttals of those arguments, and statements responding to each fiscal impact statement prepared by the office of financial management.

EYMAN CLAIM: “Their bill [SJR 8201] will mean the end of the initiative process because it will give the government the power to shut down any initiative they see as a threat. Any initiative can easily be found to be ‘out of compliance’ with this bill’s requirement.” (Eyman email, Thursday, January 22nd, 2015)

SJR 8201 IS A RESOLUTION, NOT A BILL: Contrary to what Tim says above, SJR 8201 is not a bill. Tim ought to know this after over fifteen years of involvement in Washington politics, but constitutional amendments and statutes (ordinary laws) are different things, and the distinction matters. Laws begin as bills; the Constitution says bills require a majority vote to pass (Article II, Section 22). Constitutional amendments begin as resolutions; they require a two-thirds vote to pass (Article XXIII, Section 1).

SJR 8201 WOULDN’T MEAN THE END OF ALL INITIATIVES: Be wary of the hyperbole contained in Eyman’s emails. While SJR 8201 would indeed significantly narrow the people’s initiative power by barring initiatives that do not “fiscally balance” from receiving ballot titles, it would not end the process altogether. This is hardly the first time Eyman has exaggerated the impact of a resolution or bill he didn’t like, and it won’t be the last, either.

EYMAN CLAIM: “Citizens are forced to accept thousands of the Legislature’s laws; it’s not too much to ask that elected representatives stop throwing childish temper tantrums over the handful passed by the people.” (Eyman email, Thursday, January 29th, 2015)

ALL OF WASHINGTON’S LAWS ARE THE PEOPLE’S LAWS: Tim Eyman frequently attempts to portray the Legislature as a villain. His contempt for republicanism is regrettable. Like the United States as a whole, Washington was founded as a representative democracy, and remains one today. The Washington State Legislature is a representative body; its members are chosen every two and four years in free elections that are open to every citizen of voting age who is not serving a felony sentence. Laws passed by the Legislature are as much the people’s laws as those enacted by initiative. Unlike the initiative and referendum, which were added to the Constitution in the 1900s, the Legislature is an institution that dates back to statehood. The initiative and referendum were not intended to supplant the Legislature, but rather to complement it. It is logical that the vast majority of our state’s laws have come out of the Legislature; lawmaking is what the Legislature exists to do.

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