When it comes to the initiative process, I’ve come to expect columnists and editorialists to miss the point. But in his current column [Stir up enough people, and you get initiative(s)], Bill Virgin seems to miss his own point when he writes:
“To get a reading on the hot-button issues that have the citizenry riled up, you could monitor the letters-to-the-editor column. You could sample what callers and hosts are gabbing about on talk radio shows.
Or you can scan the list of initiatives on file at the Secretary of State’s Office.”
Huh? Bill correctly states that all that is required to file an initiative is a $5.00 fee, and makes a point of mentioning some of the truly screwy initiatives that have been filed over the past couple years. So then, how does he jump to the conclusion that scanning the list of filed initiatives somehow puts his finger on the pulse of the people?
(Come to think of it, monitoring the letters-to-the-editor or talk radio shows is not a very reliable finger in the wind either.)
The bulk of initiative sponsors are crackpots, wide-eyed idealists, monied special interests… and paid professionals like Tim Eyman. Only the rarest of initiatives truly represent the popular expression of a riled citizenry.
Rarer still is a populist initiative that claws its way onto the ballot with a grassroots volunteer campaign.
Bill’s attempt to separate the wheat from the chaff, and look to those initiatives with the best chance of qualifying as a stronger measure of popular sentiment is an even more pointless exercise. Unless of course, one measures popular sentiment in dollars… which I suppose wouldn’t be surprising coming from a business columnist.
Let’s be totally honest about this. The initiatives that qualify for the ballot will be those that raise the most money — usually in large chunks from the special interests who have the most to gain by their passage.
It is not a riled citizenry that gets initiatives on the ballot… it is cold, hard, cash.
When I was in high school I took an SAT prep course where the instructor started by saying: “The only thing the SATs test, is how well you take the SATs.”
The Secretary of State’s list of initiatives tells you a lot about the intent of the sponsors, but in itself, it says little more about the will of the people than, well… Bill Virgin’s column.
So Bill… please don’t give Kemper Freeman and Tim Eyman any more credit than they deserve. They don’t need your credit. They already have plenty of cold, hard, cash.