Offering daily news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Mercenary petitioners hawking Tim Eyman’s l-1125 target Bellevue College students

Though it’s not apparent from looking at Voters Want More Choices’ most recent reports to the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), NPI can today confirm what we have suspected since the beginning of the month: Tim Eyman has found a new wealthy benefactor to put up the money for his latest scheme, Initiative 1125, which he announced he was running only eighteen days ago.

We won’t know who is bankrolling I-1125 until June 10th at the earliest (which is when Eyman is required to file his May reports).

But we do know the money spigot has been turned on and that it’s being used to deploy mercenary petitioners across Washington State.

Yesterday, we received multiple reports from activists who had sighted signature gatherers operating at big box store, including Wal-Mart. One activist told us that petitions for multiple measures were being carried.

And this morning, I found myself being asked to sign Tim Eyman’s I-1125 on my way to class as I walked through campus. Pretty ironic, huh?

Petitions for I-1125

Three petitions for Tim Eyman's Initiative 1125 (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

It seems that two mercenaries decided that a good place to collect signatures would be at the heart of the main campus at Bellevue College, which has been negatively impacted by past Tim Eyman initiatives and stands to lose even more if Eyman’s undemocratic I-1053 remains in effect.

With an annual student population of 38,000, Bellevue College is the second largest public institution of higher learning in the state, behind the UW and ahead of WSU.

Most of its programs are two-year, owing to the fact that it began as a community college, but it now offers some four-year programs as well.

Tuition at BC is reasonably low, especially compared to private colleges, thanks to Washington’s common wealth. And there are many options for taking classes – courses are offered online, in the evening, in hybrid mode (online + in the classroom), and at a satellite campus. There are also “late start” classes to accommodate students who have conflicts at the beginning of a quarter.

These are two key reasons why BC is so popular. But BC may have to raise tuition and cut class offerings if Initiative 1053 is not soon repealed or stricken as unconstitutional. It is no exaggeration to say that success for Tim Eyman means hardship for Bellevue College and its students.

That’s why it was so discomforting to see mercenary petitioners hawking Tim Eyman’s latest scheme this morning, less than a stone’s throw from my classroom. My fellow students and I stand more to lose from Tim Eyman’s harmful measures than pretty much any other group of Washingtonians.

And yet, here were these two guys, standing in front of our student union building, trying to pull Bellevue College students and faculty aside and get them to sign another destructive Tim Eyman initiative.

Petitioners smoking

Two petitioners light up cigarattes in front of the student union at Bellevue College, in violation of campus policy. (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

I declined to sign, but I stuck around to witness the petitioners in action, and take pictures. I explained that I’d be filing a post about the effort to get I-1125 on the ballot. One of them invited me to take closeup photos of him collecting signatures… and so I did.

As I watched, the petitioners corralled anyone who crossed their path who answered “yes” to the question, “Are you registered to vote?” (sometimes, “… in Washington”?). Then, they’d pitch I-1125.

Here’s an example of what the petitioner would say (this particular encounter was with a middle-aged voter):

Petitioner: “They’re taking our toll money and they’re spending it… [putting it] in the general fund. We would like that money to be spent on the roads. We’d like that tollbooth money to be spent on the roads the way that they told us it was for when they set up the tolls, right? Now, years down the line, they’re taking money out of it, and now they’re using that to raise the gas tax.”

“Who’s behind it?” asked the voter, scanning the petition.

“I don’t know who’s all behind the issue,” the petitioner lied. “I don’t know who…”

At that point, I interrupted and quietly pointed out that Tim Eyman is the sponsor of I-1125. (I didn’t say anything else because I wanted to see what he’d say next).

“Eyman’s usually behind the tax issues,” the petitioner immediately agreed. “But I can’t say for sure. I haven’t been told, yes or no, by my superiors. So I don’t know. I… I can’t lie to you, you know what I mean?” the petitioner said.

“I can’t sign it unless I know more about it,” the voter insisted.

“Oh, that’s fine. This will just put it on the ballot, you know what I mean?” replied the petitioner, countering smoothly. “You can vote however you’d like on it.”

“I have to study stuff,” the voter insisted. And then, like an informed citizen and an intelligent person, he turned and walked away.

If more Washingtonians simply exercised the good judgment that this voter did, mercenary petitioners wouldn’t be able to rapidly fill up petition sheets with signatures. Unfortunately, for every voter who refuses to put down their name and address, there are a dozen who will succumb to the pressure and take a few moments to sign a measure that they haven’t scrutinized – let alone read.

These petitioners couldn’t care less whether they are accurately representing what the measures would do. Reread the initial sales pitch from the conversation I quoted above. The petitioner is spouting nonsense.

What toll money is he talking about? At present, the Department of Transportation collects tolls only on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and for solo drivers who use the high occupancy vehicle lanes on State Route 167. That’s it. We don’t have a regionwide congestion pricing system. We don’t have any turnpikes, either.

Yes, tolls have been proposed for SR-520, I-90, and SR 99. But they’re not being collected yet. How is it possible for the government to misuse nonexistent “tollbooth money”, as the petitioner alleged?

He was also wrong to suggest that “they” (presumably “they” means the Legislature) are raising the gas tax. The tolls the Legislature has authorized are a completely different funding mechanism which isn’t connected to the gas tax.

Gas taxes are paid whenever a motorist fills up his or her car with fuel at the gas station. Tolls, on the other hand, are a surcharge paid for use of a roadway or facility. They are more common on the east coast, but they’ve been used here in the past too, usually to pay for bridges.

All motorists who drive conventional automobiles pay the gas tax, but only motorists who make use of a tolled facility pay a toll. In the case of SR 520, the reason the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge is being tolled again is so that the state can afford the replacement bridge it is starting to build. The toll money is going to be used for the new bridge. It won’t be used for other purposes.

Notice how this petitioner didn’t bother to present any specifics to back up his claims. He just rambled on with one casually-stated baseless accusation after another, trying to con the skeptical voter in front of him into signing I-1125.

And then, when he was asked who the sponsor was, he wouldn’t answer. He pretended to be ignorant. I had to interrupt and tell the voter what he wanted to know. And even then, after the truth had been revealed, this petitioner continued to lie, in the hopes of getting a signature.

I say lie because I had asked the petitioner, minutes earlier, how to get in touch with the people behind the measure – when nobody else was in the immediate vicinity and he wasn’t distracted. He flipped the petition over and showed me the contact information at the bottom, identifying Voters Want More Choices as the people responsible. So I knew he was fibbing when he was talking to this voter.

(Also, when a salesman utters a phrase like, “I can’t lie to you, you know?”, it’s a dead giveaway that the salesman is, in fact, lying… and he or she knows it).

I suspect what I saw is very typical of an extended exchange. People who are skeptical scan what’s on the clipboard, ask questions… and get lied to.

A petitioner stands amidst voters

A petitioner hawks Tim Eyman's Initiative 1125 to unsuspecting voters (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

This is precisely why we track right wing signature drives.

Tim Eyman sympathizers have angrily accused us in the past of trying to intimidate signature gatherers, which is ironic, because what we’re trying to do is hold people accountable who are trying to do just that to voters. We are not seeking to emulate their shifty behavior. We’re trying to put a spotlight on it.

Tim Eyman and his followers forget that the First Amendment is for everybody, not just them. They certainly have the freedom to petition our government for a redress of grievances (legitimate or not).

As progressives, we have the same freedom, and we also have freedom of speech, meaning we can ask people not to sign right wing initiatives.

Readers, if you’ve run into a petitioner hawking I-1125 or another right wing initiative, please tell us about your encounter using Permanent Defense’s reporting tool. Your feedback will help us document what petitioners are doing and telling voters, so we have a better idea of how to organize and mobilize against threats to our common wealth and quality of life.

7 Comments

  1. Keith Rowley
    Posted May 19th, 2011 at 8:41 PM | Permalink

    Yeah, I was walking thru the middle of campus this morning at 10am, too, when these guys were there. A young lady who had just signed danced away happily singing out loud to anyone within ear range, “sign this!” I looked at the headline and immediately responded, “STOP the gas tax? They should tax the @#$% out of gas!”

  2. Amanda T.
    Posted May 20th, 2011 at 6:03 AM | Permalink

    I’m not sure I understand why you DON’T want to see that issue on the ballot, you didn’t really go into that part. I can tell you have a personal issue with Tim Eyman, maybe that’s why? Then again, you said something about many different petitions being carried, are they all Eyman’s? God forbid he try to change the world all at once lol
    I’m sorry, but my personal opinion is that this guy was just trying to get the voters signatures and have the issue placed on the ballot which, lets be honest, is what our country is all about. I really wouldn’t want to have to go through hundreds of questions on the ballot to find the ONE that affects me and the rest of WA.
    It’s a pretty biased article you’ve written here, with really no facts to speak of so I’m going to have to go see if I can find out more about this I-1125 on Google before I can speak for or against it here. It can’t be that bad; looks like the petitioners have plenty of signers who feel it should be at least placed before the voters. :)

    “People who jump to conclusions rarely alight on them” – Phillip Guedalla

  3. Andrew
    Posted May 20th, 2011 at 11:16 AM | Permalink

    Amanda, *everything* we write is “biased”. The Advocate is a subjective publication… we don’t try to hide our point of view. It’s clear where we stand and what we believe in.

    Petitions were only being carried for one or two measures other than I-1125. I focused on I-1125 in this post because we oppose it, and it’s because it’s what the petitioners were asking people to sign first.

    A few things you should be aware of:

    Although the First Amendment gives Americans the right to petition for a redress of grievances, there is no initiative or referendum process at the federal level. It isn’t in the United States Constitution. Read the Constitution for yourself. So it’s not accurate to say that direct democracy (the initiative and referendum) “is what our country is all about”. The founding fathers intended for the United States to be a representative democracy, not a direct democracy. And although our state has the initiative and referendum, those were added by amendment to the State Constitution. They didn’t exist at statehood. I’m not sure what you mean when you say, “I really wouldn’t want to have to go through hundreds of questions on the ballot to find the ONE that affects me and the rest of WA.” There are never hundreds of questions on the ballot. At most, there are approximately half a dozen measures on the statewide ballot in any given year, and sometimes a few local propositions as well. There’s never been “hundreds”, let alone a fraction of that number.
    What I wrote about gas taxes and tolls is indeed factual. You’re welcome to look up the text of Initiative 1125 if you’d like to read that, and talk to the Department of Transportation about how tolling works.
    Suggesting that an initiative can’t be bad because there’s a picture of four people signing the initiative petition is a nonsensical argument. With half a million dollars, I could pay people to collect signatures for an initiative that bans fish from swimming in the sea. Or an initiative calling for a ban on that deadly chemical substance H20 (more commonly known as water). Some people will sign anything if you hand them a clipboard and tell them it’s important. That’s the point I’m trying to make here, a point which obviously escapes you.

  4. Amanda T.
    Posted May 21st, 2011 at 8:51 AM | Permalink

    If you do not believe in direct democracy, does that mean you don’t even vote???

    I remarked on the biasness of this article since one of your closing lines was “We are not seeking to emulate their shifty behavior. We’re trying to put a spotlight on it.” Pointing out true illegal behavior is all fine and good, it’s just interesting how you automatically assumed the petitioner was lying.

    First of all, you have no proof of that that I can see. You also did nothing to convince people NOT to sign the petition other than it was backed by the All-Evil Tim Eyman. This jumping to conclusions and keeping focused on fear-mongering against a specific person is something I’d definitely call ‘shifty behavior’.

    Your comments about trying to ban fish from swimming or banning water is kind of silly, especially in support of your ‘point’. This, you say, is that people will just sign anything put in front of them (I really don’t believe there are THAT many people THAT dumb in WA…). After reading your article again, I don’t see this point at all, so yes, your logic must escape me. What I did read is about a voter acting “like an informed citizen and an intelligent person, he turned and walked away”. Kind of seems to be in opposition to your point, doesn’t it?

    If I had to pull a specific ‘point’ I see being made in this article I’d summarize it thusly: “Tim Eyman is using private funding to pay for people to collect signatures in order to place an issue which he and his group of faceless cronies deems (and which the Attorney General must agree or it wouldn’t be in circulation, btw) legitimate but which may take away money from some of the students of a community college by cutting gas taxes to the rest of the residents of the state.” If that wasn’t your point, you did a poor job of making it…

    Here’s the thing you don’t seem to understand: everybody and their brother would have a question on the ballot if not for this petitioning process where they have to get hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of signatures from registered voters to make it qualify even for a chance of being voted into place. If a group of people come together to put up the money so these professionals can come in and make it more likely to be placed on the ballot, what exactly is wrong with that???

    After reading this article, I followed through to your website and I read that your group likes to block people who want to sign the petitions you disagree with. That’s pretty low, I think. While I commend you for making a point to be involved in politics, I think you are being extremely dishonest with voters.

    I’m also sick of hearing BS about petitioners, who are the only ones I see out there actively making a change instead of pushing pencils or typing out their narrow-mindedness for all the world to read. I’ve met them and talked to them and I really think that if it weren’t for them, this whole country would be run by old men in black suits that don’t show their Depends underneath. Your ‘representative democracy’ in other words.

    Anyway, I wasn’t trying to get into a political debate here; honestly the whole us-vs-them thing about politics sickens me. But I wanted to make MY point that when I go to walk into the booth with my understanding of the issues, my vote WONT be swayed by whose clique is backing the issue.

  5. Amanda T.
    Posted May 21st, 2011 at 9:02 AM | Permalink

    One edit to my previous post.
    I see now that this measure really has very little to do with cutting gas taxes as it does with HOW the money is being used. So, to provide lacking information and to keep us ‘on the issue’, lets take a look at what exactly this measure is for:

    Ballot Measure Summary
    This measure would prohibit motor vehicle fund revenue and vehicle toll revenue from being used for non-transportation purposes. It would prohibit non-highway use of state highway lanes funded by gas taxes or vehicle tolls. It would require the legislature to set tolls, and would provide that a toll on a particular road or bridge, including the Interstate 90 floating bridge, could be used only for construction, operation, or maintenance of that particular road or bridge.

    Well, yeah. To be honest I fully expect that if I pay taxes and fees for using a road that those monies go into making the road I’m using better. You should really be ashamed of taking that money for your college. If you need more money there, have a fundraiser like any other student body.

  6. Steve Breaux
    Posted May 22nd, 2011 at 9:35 AM | Permalink

    These mercenaries are also lying about where toll revenue is going when they say “They’re taking our toll money and they’re spending it… [putting it] in the general fund.”

    Tolls on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge go into a dedicated account to pay off the bonds that financed the construction of the TNB and to cover its ongoing operating costs (maintenance, toll collection). There is no transfer of tolls to the larger Transportation budget, let along the state General Fund.

    Regarding them “not knowing” who is sponsoring the initiative that they’re gathering signatures for, that’s just laughable!

    Either:

    A) they’re lying because they know that they’d have a harder time getting signatures (and thus, getting paid) for an “Eyman Initiative”

    or

    B) they are literally ignorant of the basic facts of the initiative they’re pushing, and therefore everything they say is suspect. How can you believe what they tell you about the guts of the initiative if they can’t correctly tell you who’s sponsoring it?

    Of course, all of this is par for the course for most initiatives, and for every Eyman initiative – those promoting them have an agenda and are only going to put forward the facts (and sometimes, lies) that support their cause.

    It’s only made worse by mercenaries who don’t even have an ideological connection to the issue – all they care about is someone, anyone, signing the initiative so they can get paid.

  7. Andrew
    Posted May 22nd, 2011 at 11:12 AM | Permalink

    You should really be ashamed of taking that money for your college. If you need more money there, have a fundraiser like any other student body.

    Amanda, you’re clearly confused. I suggest you reread my post… carefully. I-1053 and I-1125 are not the same initiative.