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Testimony on SHB 2019 and HB 2601

Off Topic

The following is the prepared testimony of Permanent Defense Chair and Northwest Progressive Institute Executive Director Andrew Villeneuve on two initiative process reform bills considered by the House State Government & Tribal Affairs Committee.

Chairman Hunt and Members of the Committee:

The staff of the Northwest Progressive Institute, a regional think tank devoted to advancing the common good through ideas and action, would like to express our collective thanks to you for considering two bills today that would improve the integrity of the initiative process: SHB 2019, which would require signature gatherers of ballot measure petitions to sign petition declarations under oath, and HB 2601, which would require signature gatherers to register with the state.

In recent years the number of initiatives and referenda submitted to the people annually has grown in number, aided by the rise of a for profit signature gathering industry. With half a million dollars, any individual or group willing to spend the money can force a public vote on their idea, regardless of its true popularity.

Requiring the many independent contractors who are paid to circulate petitions to register with the state will strengthen the spirit of the initiative process by providing more transparency. The people of Washington State have repeatedly affirmed that an open political process is important; in 1971, the vote to approve the creation of the Public Disclosure Commission was an overwhelming 72%.

Almost every state in America with the initiative and referendum process has established regulations to protect their powers of direct democracy from fraud and abuse.

Washington is one of the few that has not, and it’s time to change that.

Article II, Section II of our state Constitution explicitly reserves the initiative and referendum powers to the people, and more specifically, “we the people of the state Washington” – the very first words in the preamble of our most cherished and foundational document.

Despite this clear intent, it is possible today for any person to circulate a petition in Washington State, because the business of signature gathering is unregulated. Petitioners don’t have to reside here, they don’t have to be registered to vote, and they don’t even have to be U.S. citizens.

Montana has addressed this issue by requiring petitioners to be residents. Residency is defined as “the union of act and intent” to reside and continue to reside in Montana.

(A full list of states with residency requirements can be found at this link.)

Our organization routinely receives reports from alarmed Washingtonians who have stories to share about their encounters with paid petitioners. Store managers have told us about out-of-state petitioners setting up shop in front of their entryways without permission, aggressively pestering customers for signatures. Activists have spoke of paid signature gatherers trying to trick them into signing multiple initiatives by falsely informing them their signature is required twice. Suspicious citizens have reported petitioners becoming irritated and unresponsive when they ask for more information about the initiative or referendum in question.

The evidence that we’ve received clearly suggests a need for investigation…and reform.

The Legislature has a duty to the people of Washington State to protect and enhance our tradition of direct democracy, and these bills are an excellent step towards greater accountability and public confidence in the process. We look forward to working with the Committee to refine and improve this legislation, and we thank all of you for your public service to our state.

Washington Research Council publishes report on I-960

Off TopicThreat Analysis

The Washington Research Council, a business-supported think tank, has a new report (PDF) that echoes our criticisms of Tim Eyman’s latest plan to handicap government:

Initiative 960 is intended to make it more difficult for our elected representatives to raise taxes without referring the matter to a direct vote of the people. As such, it would take the state a step further away from representative democracy.

The value of delegating public decision making to a small number of representatives was well expressed by James Madison:

The effect of [the delegation of the government to a small number of citizens elected by the rest is] to refine and enlarge the public views by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country and whose patriotism and love for justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations. Under such a regulation, it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose. (Federalist 10)

The Research Council likes representative democracy. While both the initiative and the referendum provide useful checks on the legislature, public votes should be the exception not the rule.

We find the advisory ballots to be particularly problematic, as they are designed more to intimidate legislators rather than to engage the public. If the initiative passes, the two-thirds majority requirement will almost certainly be challenged for violating the state Constitution.

Learn more about I-960’s harmful ramifications for our state at Reasons to Oppose.

Statement on submission of signatures for I-960

Off Topic

Here’s the press release we sent out this morning following the news:

Permanent Defense today responded to Tim Eyman’s submission of signatures for I-960 to the Secretary of State’s office by renewing its commitment to fight the measure if it qualifies for the ballot.

“Anyone with half a million dollars can buy their way onto the ballot, no matter your issue or political ideology,” said Permanent Defense chair Andrew Villeneuve. “We anticipated that Mr. Eyman would turn in a significant number of signatures for this un-American, unconstitutional, unfair proposal…but it remains to be seen if it’s actually true.”

“We’ll be waiting to see if the Secretary of State’s office actually has the number of signatures that Eyman claims he turned in. We already know we can’t trust his boasting.”

Villeneuve noted that I-960 may never qualify for the ballot, even if there are enough signatures. A lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court last May by Futurewise and SEIU 775 is due for a hearing next week (July 13th). The suit seeks to block I-960 from the ballot because it is outside the scope of the initiative process – it attempts to do what our state’s initiative process was not designed for and expressly prohibits (amending the state Constitution by initiative).

“We will work diligently with a broad and diverse coalition of other organizations to defeat this measure in November and protect our cherished tradition of majority rule,” Villeneuve added.

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Permanent Defense works to protect Washington by building a first line of defense against threats to the common wealth and Constitution of the Evergreen State — like Tim Eyman's initiative factory. Learn more.

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