I’ve spoken at a few initiative forums recently, opposing I-892 before community groups and other organizations. These forums are extremely informative for voters, as they allow for an exchange, pro and con, while questions from the audience keep both sides honest. (Or at least in Tim’s case, clearly expose his dishonesty.)
Unfortunately there is are no such checks and balances on campaign literature and advertising, resulting in some really egregious lies… of omission, and otherwise.
All the initiative campaigns will tell you that their measure will pass because it is popular with voters. So explain to me, for example, why the current TV ads for Referendum 55, which authorizes the creation of charter schools, doesn’t bother to mention um… charter schools?
What a weasly ad. Of course voters are concerned about failing schools. Of course we want to make our schools better. But if we thought charter schools were the answer, we wouldn’t have rejected them the last couple times they were on the ballot.
Charter school proponents know this, and so they neglect to mention what exactly it is R-55 does. Informed solely by these TV ads, voters would think they are simply being asked to vote for better schools. Now that’s a winning proposition.
The Initiative 892 campaign is similarly deceptive. I-892 legalizes slot machines, and puts them into over 2000 bars, restaurants and bowling alleys scattered through nearly every community in the state. It would be the most massive expansion of gambling in state history, and would dramatically increase access to the most addictive form of gambling every devised.
Of course, the campaign’s yard signs and literature don’t happen to mention slot machines or gambling. Why? Polls consistently show that voters are strongly opposed to expanding gambling, especially with slot machines, and especially, especially in their own neighborhood.
That’s why all the campaign ever talks about is lower property taxes. That’s why the gambling industry hired Tim Eyman to front the initiative, because love him or hate him (or really hate him) Eyman is a well known brand name associated with tax cut initiatives.
The gambling industry also knows that Tim has no problem with outright lies and distortions. His promised $400 million tax cut? Pulled out of thin air… he’s never once provided the data to support his projection, yet he has the gall to dismiss much lower projections from the Gambling Commission and the OFM as “laughable.” His much repeated statement that I-892 saves the “average property owner” $219.68 a year? Again… based on what?
Not to mention the fact that “average” savings are meaningless anyway… it’s median savings that illustrate the typical impact, and as the Tacoma News Tribune points out in today’s editorial opposing I-892, that would amount to about $5 a month. (Probably less.)
Now I know what some of you are thinking. This is politics, and we should expect campaigns to emphasize their strengths, while hushing up their weaknesses. But when it comes to initiatives and referendum — complex pieces of legislation — it makes for a really crappy debate that more often than not, fails to educate voters enough to make an informed decision.
How many people will vote for I-892 thinking it gives them a huge tax cut while merely expanding lottery ticket machines? How many people will vote for R-55 not realizing it authorizes charter schools? How many people will vote for I-872 believing it restores the blanket primary?
Voters do have these mistaken impressions. And initiative sponsors are counting on it. And that is irresponsible politics.