“There’s no such thing as bad press. That’s just the reality.”
– Tim Eyman, June 5, Spokane Spokesman-Review
“I know that government can sometimes screw up, but I know that you can sometimes screw up. And I know that government can sometimes be dishonest, but I know you can sometimes be dishonest.”
– KVI host John Carlson to Tim Eyman, 07/24/06
Professional initiative sponsor Tim Eyman had lied to reporters once again, and man were they pissed off.
It was June 5, just one day before the deadline to turn in signatures for R-65, a referendum that would have put a repeal of our state’s gay civil rights statute on the November ballot. Tim had announced he would be dropping off petitions at the Secretary of State’s office, implying that a last minute push had gathered the requisite signatures. I suppose that would have been big news, so a sizable crowd of print, radio and TV reporters showed up for the event, many driving all the way from Seattle to Olympia that morning, cameras in tow.
But it was classic bait and switch. There were no R-65 petitions to be dropped off that morning (or ever.) Instead, ridiculously garbed in a rented Darth Vader costume, Tim mocked the assembled throng of journalists, refusing to answer questions about R-65 in favor of plugging I-917, his anti-Sound Transit initiative.
“Feel like you’ve been duped?” Eyman associate Mike Fagan asked reporters. “Well, you have.”
This wasn’t the first time Eyman had blatantly lied to the media — hell, it wasn’t even the first time he’d called a press conference under false pretenses. But while the journalists that day were openly hostile, Tim was unapologetic. To Tim, any stunt, any lie, is worth it if it gets his name in print or his face in front of the cameras. “There’s no such thing as bad press,” Tim told reporters that day, repeating a maxim that has defined his career. “That’s just the reality.”
The problem is, Tim and reality have been on tenuous terms for quite some time. It is one thing to spout simplistic, absolutist talking points when promoting a ballot measure, but it’s another thing entirely to actually start believing them. In fact, there is such a thing as bad press, and this week Tim has been receiving it in spades. And from some unlikely sources.
When Eyman turned in the petitions for I-917 he claimed to have collected over 300,000 signatures, more than enough cushion to virtually guarantee qualifying for the November ballot. Yet as I reported last week, Secretary of State Sam Reed’s office counted only 266,000… a number that puts the initiative on the bubble. Well, on Monday, Timmy held an early morning press conference to essentially accuse Reed — a fellow Republican — of losing or stealing 35,000 signatures.
And… well… apparently, nobody believes him. (Tim, that is.)
And I mean nobody. As the Seattle Times’ David Postman pointedly observed, even the reliably knee-jerk pages of (un)Sound Politics dumped on Tim, with the alliteratively named Eric Earling gently calling attention to Eyman’s “problems with the truth” while our good friend Stefan could only muster a meek rebuttal by accusing his co-blogger of inheriting an establishment position on transportation issues, but ignoring Earling’s critique of Tim’s honesty.
But it was in his formerly safe refuge of conservative talk radio where Timmy suffered the most abuse from hosts and callers alike. My 710-KIRO colleague Dori Monson, who is normally pretty quick to blame government incompetency and dishonesty for everything from moral decline to his morning halitosis, clearly wasn’t buying Timmy’s explanation that it was Reed who screwed up. And KVI’s John Carlson, who has worked with Eyman on past initiatives, all but accused Tim of lying. No wait… he did accuse Tim of lying.
I was particularly amused to hear Eyman talk about his own “meticulous record keeping” as evidence that it is his signature count that we should blindly trust rather than that of the SOS… incredible hubris coming from the guy who infamously couldn’t keep his personal finances separate from his campaign finances. But even funnier still is the fact that Eyman’s claims of “weekly reports” and “meticulous record keeping” is directly contradicted by his own statements in regard to R-65.
He wasn’t turning in any petitions. In fact, he said he didn’t know how many signatures had been gathered so far.
“Frankly, we have no idea,” Eyman said, standing there in his knee boots, cape and plastic codpiece. He then launched into a public appeal for supporters to bring their petitions to Olympia.
“Frankly, we have no idea.” And that was the day before the June 6 signature deadline. Yeah… talk about meticulous record keeping.
So either Tim is lying about his meticulous recording keeping now, or he was lying about not having meticulous record keeping then. Either way, he’s a liar. Which I suppose explains why those who know Tim best — you know, people like John Carlson — simply don’t believe him.
All this makes Eyman’s sugar daddy, Michael Dunmire look particularly naive, paranoid and foolish.
Naive? Dunmire, who says he’s preparing to write another $100,000 check to Eyman’s personal compensation fund, told Postman that he’s absolutely confident of the weekly signature reports he saw.
“They keep track. They live and die by them. They’re not wrong.”
Paranoid? What explains the 35,000 signature discrepancy?
“There are a lot of entities that don’t want I-917. They have their own techniques. They send out goon squads to intimidate petitioners. That never gets covered. We play it straight up.”
Foolish? When asked how much money he’d given Eyman this year, Dunmire wasn’t sure:
“Haven’t a clue. When I get a compulsion and think that’s a good place to make a contribution, I write a check. And I don’t keep track.”
He doesn’t keep track? How the fuck did this guy get to be a multi-millionaire?
So here we have an admitted liar who claims he has “no idea” how many signatures he has the day before they’re due, financed by some clueless rich guy who doesn’t “keep track” of the checks he writes… and he acts surprised when we take the word of Secretary of State Sam Reed over his?
The only question I have is not if Eyman is lying about the signature count, but when he started lying about it… and I can’t help but suspect that he knew he was shorting the SOS the day he turned in the petitions. For one of the more bizarre elements of this story is the small piece of notebook paper, date stamped by an SOS clerk, on which Tim hand wrote the number “300,353″… a document Tim calls a “receipt” that verifies his count.
Yeah, right. As if we’re all a bunch of idiots.
I’ve watched Tim turn in petitions for past initiatives, and I’ve never seen him provide or ask for a signature count “receipt” like this before. In fact, I asked Election Director Nick Handy if to his recollection this was standard practice for Eyman or any other initiative sponsor. Handy wrote back:
We are not familiar with Tim Eyman requesting a stamp on a document like this in the past, nor are we familiar with any other sponsors requesting this.
I understand that he was requesting the receptionist at Secretary of State’s Office in the Capitol Building to stamp this while he knew our staff was actually counting the pages at the Elections Office a few blocks away. So, he knew at the time that our office did not know how many signatures were being submitted.
So, um… if Eyman had never asked for a receipt like this before, and he knew that the Elections Office didn’t yet know the number of signatures… why did he bother having this document date stamped?
Because he thinks we’re all a bunch of idiots, that’s why. Because he knew he was short, and he knew he needed something to wave in front of reporters so that he could claim that he was being cheated. Because he thinks the press and the public are as dumb as his patron Michael Dunmire, some rich guy with the gall to think he knows best how to balance a state budget when he doesn’t even bother to balance his own checkbook.
In the end it’s not the lying that’s earning Tim all the bad press — reporters have long known he’s a liar. No, what’s pissing off journalists is that Tim is deliberately wasting their time, disrespecting their profession and insulting their intelligence.
Few people know more about what it takes to qualify an initiative for the ballot than John Carlson — indeed, it was John who saved Tim’s ass on I-200. And yet Tim had the nerve to go on John’s show and wave that scrap of paper around like it was meaningful? Tim had the gall to challenge John when asked why he didn’t photocopy his petitions… like every other experienced initiative sponsor does? Tim treated John and his audience like idiots, and they took him to the mat.
I have been criticized for vilifying Tim Eyman the man while his initiatives have continued to prove popular at the polls (though I should point out that in the three elections since I’ve come on the scene, Tim has only passed a single measure, the largely superfluous I-900.) And while it is true that most voters don’t cast their ballots based on who the initiative sponsor is, this critique misses the role of the press in promoting Eyman and his initiatives, particularly the inexplicable generosity our state’s newspapers have shown in granting him celebrity-status access to their op/ed pages.
Tim has repeatedly lied on his petitions, lied to voters, lied to his own contributors, and unapologetically lied to the press. It begs the question: at what point will Eyman’s credibility be so tarnished — so utterly destroyed — that op/ed editors finally start rejecting his frequent guest column submissions the way they do those of nearly every other crank and political crackpot?
Perhaps, that point has been reached now?