Call me naive, but despite my occasionally harsh criticism of the folks on the Seattle Times editorial board, I’m always genuinely surprised every time they sink to a new level of rhetorical shamelessness. Take for example their endorsement of Tim Eyman’s patently ridiculous and unworkable I-960. I never saw it coming.
I-960 would, amongst other things, require a two-thirds supermajority in the legislature for passing tax and fee increases, as well as other budgetary actions; failing that, such measures can be put before voters for simple majority vote at the polls. The goal, as even the Times admits, is to send a message to legislators, and bind their hands (though not “too much.”) “This is not a great solution, but it’s about all the people can do by ballot,” the Times writes. “We think it would have a wake-up effect on legislators.”
Of course, what neither the Times nor Eyman is willing to clearly articulate is exactly why they feel such a dramatic wake-up call is needed. The Times feebly argues:
Initiative 960 deserves the people’s support. In this decade, the Legislature has raised statewide taxes on cigarettes, liquor, inheritances and gasoline. Initiative 960 makes further tax increases a bit more difficult…
Oh… it’s because the people need a stronger voice in approving or rejecting tax increases, right? Except that A) both the gas tax and estate tax were challenged via initiative; and B) given the opportunity, voters overwhelmingly rejected repeal of these taxes at the polls! So what’s the problem? Voters had the chance to reject these taxes, but refused. Looks to me like the system is working.
It is curious to note that the Times never called for such extremist measures when Republicans controlled the legislature, or at least posed a reasonable threat to do so, but now that Democrats have at least temporarily gained dominance by winning the battle of ideas, the Times and the GOP want to change the rules. No longer is a simple majority a sufficient standard for deciding the basic operations of government, as it has been throughout our nation’s two-plus-century history. No, its party unable to win much more than a third of the seats in the state House and Senate, the Times now argues in favor of granting the Republican minority a veto over the democratically elected majority.
Ironically, it was only two weeks ago that the Times editors vociferously argued against “the tyranny of the minority” in urging approval of EHJR 4204, a constitutional amendment that would eliminate the 60-percent super majority requirement for passing local school levies:
Fifty percent plus one is how our democracy works.
What the fuck? Surely the Times is not suggesting that “fifty percent plus one is how our democracy works” at the polls, but 66 percent plus one is how democracy should work when it comes to representative democracy? Indeed, on the very same page the Times endorses I-960, they make the opposite argument in opposing SJR 8206, a constitutionally mandated rainy day fund that would require a 60 percent supermajority to tap:
Voters should say “no” because this measure binds future legislatures to the thinking of today and does so in an all but permanent way.
Anyone who believes in representative democracy — and in lawmakers in future years making important budget decisions based on what they know at the time — should decline this obviously tempting measure.
So let me get this straight: fifty percent plus one is how democracy works, except when Democrats dominate the legislature, and if we believe in “representative democracy” we don’t want to bind the hands of future legislatures to a 60 percent supermajority, but we do want to bind the hands of the current legislature to a two-thirds one? I mean… what the fuck?!
When the editors of our state’s largest daily willfully contradict themselves on the same page, on the same day, it is an embarrassment to themselves and to the entire region. And it begs the question: are the Times editors really this stupid… or do they merely think their readers are? In other words, are they fucktards or fuckwads?
Oh, the Times argues that the difference between SJR 8206 and I-960 is that of a “concrete” versus an “earthen” dam, but this sort of naked sophistry is laughable within the context of the larger philosophical arguments the Times itself has raised. “Tyranny of the minority,” “50 percent plus one,” “representative democracy,” “lawmakers… making important budget decisions based on what they know at the time” — all these lofty principles are tossed aside in the service of punishing and embarrassing a Democratic legislature that dared to tax Frank Blethen’s heirs.
With so many other editorial boards getting it right, it is hard to fathom how the Times could get it so wrong, and in such a poorly argued and/or disingenuous manner. And while the Times editors admit that I-960 “is not a great solution,” unlike their colleagues, they stubbornly refuse to educate their readers by explaining why:
“The measure, which will appear on the Nov. 6, general election ballot, is murky, expensive, mired in bureaucracy and might be unconstitutional… I-960 is clumsily written and will be challenged in the courts, costing taxpayers millions of dollars… Voters should reject I-960.” ‑ September 23, 2007
Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
“I-960 will be expensive and is not necessary. We urge voters to reject the proposal.” ‑ October 27, 2007
Tacoma News Tribune
“Voters really can’t know what exactly I-960 would do…The initiative also goes astray by being overly – and oddly – prescriptive. For advisory votes, it calls for doing away with the usual voters’ pamphlet explanation…and mandates that the ballot question describe the issue at hand in 13 words. That’s not a recipe for informed voting.” ‑ October 19, 2007
“The Columbian strongly recommends a ‘NO’ vote on I-960, joining a large chorus of organizations, public officials and other newspapers… Colorado tried twisting a similar tourniquet around legislators’ work, and the effort there failed miserably, with sharp declines in national rankings for education funding and health care… If enacted,  would make our state government bigger, slower, more cumbersome and more expensive… Let’s say a natural disaster or some other catastrophe hits our state. If legislators were constricted by I-960, the response to that disaster would be brought to a dangerously slow pace. That’s why police, firefighters and nurses oppose I-960.” ‑ October 8, 2007
The Times endorsement puts Blethen and the gang in pretty lonely company, but the way they wrote it — blatantly (or stupidly) contradicting their own editorial page — has them standing alone. What kind of paper argues for a measure they admit is bad, to solve a problem they refuse to enunciate? Are they idiots or liars? Fucktards or fuckwads? You decide.