It is not surprising that in all his literature, yard signs, and radio ads, and in all his media appearances, Tim Eyman never mentions what Initiative 892 actually does: legalize slot machines. What is curious, is how little time he spends on his familiar property tax message, instead choosing to focus on the real rhetorical theme of the initiative: “Stick it to the Tribes!”
His PDC reports show no expenditures on polling or focus groups, so I’m assuming this racist appeal comes directly from Tim’s heart. After all, the first initiative Tim sponsored was the anti-affirmative action I-200. (And yes, John Carlson, I know you deserve the credit for passing it… though why you so fervently want the credit, escapes me.)
An editorial in yesterday’s Seattle P-I (”Native slurs“) shows just how low I-892 supporters are willing to take this argument, and how shameless they are in promoting it. The editorial mentions a series of pro-892 political cartoons that have been offered to local newspapers, “that use offensive stereotypes to depict Indians.”
The cartoons depict Indians in loincloths, headbands and feathers and include the phrases “keep ‘um cigarette tax, keep ‘um sales tax, keep ‘um gas tax, too,” apparently trying to make the common I-892 proponents’ argument that tribal casinos have an unfair competitive advantage over non-tribal gambling businesses.
In debating Tim on the radio and in person, I always steered away from the tribal issue, so I could relentlessly focus on the single, winning message of the No campaign: I-892 legalizes slot machines and puts them into our neighborhoods. (It’s a beautiful thing when a political soundbite is both effective, and the incontrovertible truth.) If I strayed off-message, it was only to reinforce it by talking about the very real dangers of problem gambling.
This type of rhetorical discipline was as painful for me as it was out of character. I am opposed to legalizing slots, even at tribal casinos. But I sympathize with the tribes, their unique economic and social challenges, and their long, tragic history at the hands of the “Us” in Eyman’s Orwellian-named PAC, “Just Treat Us The Same.”
And at times, I felt ashamed, biting my tongue as Tim attempted to stoke the fires of racial hatred. I could have rejoined by pointing out that the tribes are sovereign nations — essentially, local governments — and that the vast majority of casino profits are used to provide services to their citizens, like education, health care, roads, etc. I could have repeated Pierce County Executive John Landenberg’s assertions that the tribes have saved county taxpayers millions by building their own schools and health clinics, and eliminating their burden on social services. Or I could have simply appealed to a sense of historical justice, suggesting that if Tim wanted to be treated the same, we should steal his Mukilteo McMansion and move him to a reservation.
But responding to Tim would have allowed him to control the terms of the debate, thus clouding the issue for voters. The issue is gambling. Voters don’t want more of it, especially not in their neighborhoods… and especially, especially not slot machines.
Tim is banking that voters resent the tribes more than they revile slot machines. Racial resentment proved to be a winning theme in the I-200 campaign, and Tim is apparently hoping that “Us” hates Indians at least as much as they hate black people.
I know that may sound like a cynical, harsh, and unnecessarily blunt assessment. But if I-892 loses as overwhelmingly as recent polls suggest, it will encouragingly show that Tim’s racist rhetoric has as little appeal with voters as the two anti-government initiatives he has failed to qualify the past two years.
Tim Eyman has ceased to be relevant with voters. Eventually, the media will wake up to this, and allow his state-wide celebrity to slowly ebb away.