David Ammons, the dean of WA’s Capitol press corp, has a piece today on the initiative process, and the newly established state chapter of the Initiative and Referendum Institute: “National Group Takes Up Initiative Watch Here.” (Kitsap Sun, free subscription required.)
The Institute claims its role is to protect the initiative process; its state director, Shawn Newman warns that power brokers in Olympia would like to abolish the initiative process entirely. But this rhetoric merely echoes the typically hyperbolic sentiments of professional initiative sponsor Tim Eyman:
“Legislators are always going to be looking for an opportunity to undermine the initiative process, so you have to be ever vigilant.”
What a load of crap. The initiative process is safely ensconced in our state constitution, and there’s absolutely no way to significantly reform it without a two-thirds vote in both houses, and a simple majority at the polls… thus the Institute’s stated mission is a red herring. Indeed, Ammons quotes one notable critic, who points out that the biggest threat to the initiative process is Eyman himself:
“We don’t need a mindless cheerleader for this process,” says David Goldstein, a Seattle blogger who watches initiatives closely. He dismisses Newman’s worry about the process being under attack and says, “The No. 1 thing that undermines the initiative is the way it is overused and misused, particularly in the western states.
“It is a complete end run around representative government. We elect these people to the Legislature and if you don’t like their decisions, you throw them out. Nothing could be more democratic than that.”
Initiatives are largely anti-government and have been taken over by wealthy individuals and special interests, Goldstein says.
That Goldstein guy really knows what he’s talking about.
The fact is, the initiative process has long ceased to be the populist safety-valve that was intended. Initiative sponsors like to tell voters that this is the only way to “send a message” to Olympia, but the message the sponsors send to voters is that government is the enemy. In that sense, even the most progressive initiative can work against the broader progressive agenda, as the very act of filing an initiative is commonly perceived as an indictment of our elected officials.
As we have learned again from the saga of I-872, initiatives are typically poorly crafted, and often downright unconstitutional. But when the courts do their job and toss out an illegal initiative, the sponsors cynically use that too to fan the flames of anti-government fervor. Look at some of our state’s most profligate initiative sponsors — Tim Eyman, John Carlson, the BIAW, the gambling industry — these are all people and organizations with a radical vision of a dramatically smaller and weaker government, with little taxing power and even less regulatory authority. Outside the mainstream of political opinion, they cloak their agenda in populist clothing, while often appealing to our basest, most selfish instincts.
That the initiative process needs watching is a given… that it needs protection is a joke. And in the Institute’s case, it is also a lie. They understand full well that by it’s very nature the initiative process is a handy tool for turning the people against their government. And that is the overarching agenda of many on the right who support the process most.