Initiative profiteer Tim Eyman got a taste of what it’s like to be interrupted and heckled tonight when he showed up in Seattle to speak at the second to last stop on Rodney Tom and Curtis King’s transportation autumn “listening tour”, which has been traveling around the state since mid-September.
Eyman, who was also at the Everett stop a couple of weeks ago, came prepared with a set of provocative talking points to recite. When his name was called late in the third hour, he got up from his seat and walked to the center aisle as whispers filled the sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church in Seattle.
“Did he just say Tim Eyman?” someone near me asked. “Yep,” I replied. “Tim’s here, and when he speaks this room is going to get much noisier.”
And, sure enough, a few minutes later, Eyman stepped to the microphone, and the fun times began. Anyone who was snoozing in their seat was jolted awake.
“My name is, uh, Tim Eyman,” Eyman began. I think he then tried to say that he was from Mukilteo, but that got drowned out by the loud chorus of boos and jeers that immediately filled the room. The Republicans up at the front of the room smiled weakly or looked grim. The Democrats seemed amused.
“You’re a joke!” yelled one audience member.
Undeterred, Eyman went on.
“The people attending these meetings, including myself, are not a representative sample of the taxpayers of Washington,” Eyman said, instantly drawing another round of boos and jeers. “Normal people are at home recovering from a long day at work, but their voices deserve to be heard too,” he added.
“We’re normal people!” shouted several indignant audience members in a near simultaneous (but uncoordinated) reply. “I came here straight from work,” one young woman sitting near me said loudly.
People in the room were offended, and certainly they had every right to be.
Were I not an activist who has been watchdogging Tim Eyman and fighting his destructive initiatives for over a decade, I would have been offended too. I’d have resented Eyman’s sneering implication that I was not a “normal” person because I had chosen to give up part of my evening to share my opposition to Metro service cuts with the people charged with deciding what our laws and budget should be.
But I’ve heard Eyman give testimony so many times that I know what to expect. Condescension is part and parcel of Eyman’s schtick. He can be disarming in person, but when he’s got an audience, he is consistently rude and disrespectful. It’s sad. He doesn’t care about being on topic; he only cares about stuffing as much dishonest anti-government propaganda as he can into two minutes.
As far as I’m concerned, normal people are people who are civic-minded and make an effort to vote, show up to jury duty, and participate in politics. Apathy or disinterest in public affairs is not normal or healthy in a democracy - it’s dangerous.
Eyman may not be normal – after all, he’s a well paid professional politician – but plenty of people who showed up at tonight’s hearing are regular Washingtonians who claim to represent nobody but themselves. They spoke as citizens and activists, not lobbyists or political operatives. Unlike Eyman, they don’t get paid big bucks to promote cynical initiatives designed to wreck government.
Every person in this country should be an activist. Activism is normal. What is not normal is passivism. I used to be a passivist, but then I saw the damage that Tim Eyman’s initiatives were doing to my community, and I decided I could not sit on the sidelines any longer. I became an activist. Eleven and a half years later, I still am.
After insulting the other people in the room, Eyman proceeded to heap praise on Rodney Tom, Tim Sheldon, and the other Senate Republicans for not having voted to raise revenue to fund vital transportation improvements.
He then deployed one of his favorite catchphrases, also emblazoned on his t-shirt: Let the voters decide. Eyman uses this one a lot because it is simple and appealing. What could be more democratic than letting the voters decide, after all?
But Eyman is no populist. He’s a pretender. He merely employs populist rhetoric to disguise his extreme, anti-government views. Like his idol Grover Norquist, he is opposed to raising or even recovering revenue under any circumstances. When lawmakers do put a levy or an infrastructure funding package on the ballot, Eyman opposes it. If it affects him, he can be counted on to campaign against it.
In fact, I’m not aware of any instance where Tim Eyman has supported a ballot measure – let alone a bill in the Legislature – that would raise revenue.
(Tim, if I’m wrong on this, feel free to leave a comment and tell us which levy or levies you’ve voted in favor of, or urged others to vote for).
So it is disingenuous for Eyman to say Let the voters decide, since he is not really for letting the voters decide. The only public votes that matter to him are the public votes he can cite to buttress his anti-government talking points.
What Eyman *is* for is destroying our vital public services. Drowning government in a bathtub, in the infamous words of Grover Norquist.
That is why, over the span of a decade, he has sponsored more than a dozen initiatives to slash taxes or put budgeting and revenue decisions in the hands of his anti-tax friends in the Legislature… even when they are not in the majority.
Most of these initiatives have been defeated by voters or struck down by the courts because they were unconstitutional. But again, Eyman doesn’t like to talk about his defeats. He only talks about the times when voters have backed his position. He presents a very distorted and warped view of past events. He did it again tonight when he recounted the fate of two of his earliest initiatives.
In 1999, Initiative 695 set car tabs at thirty dollars per year… it was overwhelmingly approved. Then-Governor Gary Locke [later] said thirty dollar license tabs are here to stay.
In 2002, Initiative 776 again set car tabs at $30 a year, and it was overwhelmingly approved.
As usual, Eyman was fibbing. Here is what really happened all those years ago.
In 1999, Tim Eyman sponsored I-695. I-695 tried to do two things: repeal the statewide motor vehicle excise tax – which mainly funded roads, ferries, and transit – and require that future increases in revenue be subject to a public vote. I-695 passed statewide, but not overwhelmingly. It failed in King County.
The next year, the courts struck down I-695 as unconstitutional because it violated the single-subject rule. The Legislature then unwisely decided, at Gary Locke’s urging, to repeal the MVET, which to this day remains a very costly mistake.
However, it left local MVETs in place at the local level, which meant that most Washingtonians continued to pay more than $30 in annual vehicle fees.
In 2002, Tim Eyman sponsored I-776, which he nicknamed “Son of 695″. I-776 sought to repeal those local motor vehicle excise taxes that the Legislature had left in place. As of 2002, four counties (King, Snohomish, Pierce, and Douglas) collected MVETs, along with Sound Transit. Eyman’s primary goal with I-776 was to rob Sound Transit of one of its revenue sources, thus making it impossible for the agency to move forward with plans to build a regional light rail system.
I-776 was the first Eyman initiative I was involved in fighting. Sadly, in November 2002, I-776 narrowly passed statewide. However, it failed in King County and in Sound Transit’s jurisdiction. The courts later ruled that because Sound Transit had pledged the revenue it was collecting from the MVET to bonds it had sold to finance light rail construction, the MVET had to continue to be collected. And it was. Central Link broke ground in 2003 and opened to strong ridership six years later.
So, just to recap: Neither of Tim Eyman’s “thirty dollar car tab” initiatives actually set vehicle fees at thirty dollars across Washington. Neither passed overwhelmingly. And neither was approved in King County, the locale of tonight’s transportation listening tour, and the area represented by most of the lawmakers present.
Contrary to what Eyman said, vehicle fees are not “radioactive”, nor is the motor vehicle excise tax a “corrupt tax”. Eyman made a name for himself trying to repeal vehicle fees, so it’s no surprise that he is strongly opposed to the Legislature reinstating vehicle fees to pay for ferries, roads, and transit.
The old MVET certainly had problems, but it should have been reformed, not repealed. The loss of the revenue the MVET provided has left us in bad shape. If the 2000 Legislature hadn’t been so shortsighted, our needs now would not be so great. Vehicle fees should be raised as part of a new transportation package, so we’re not just relying on an increase in the gas tax to pay for projects and services.
After Eyman’s time had expired, an irritated Curtis King admonished the audience for repeatedly interrupting Eyman with boos and jeers. While I would agree that the audience wasn’t respectful of Eyman’s time, they were only giving Eyman a taste of what it’s like to be treated rudely. People are justifiably sick and tired of Tim Eyman’s toxic politics and his destructive initiatives.
People in King County are especially fed up. King County is a place where progress and public investment is valued, and where interdependence is acknowledged and appreciated. We are all in this together. We can do more for ourselves when we pool our resources to get things done. That’s why nearly every person testifying besides Tim Eyman urged lawmakers to go back to Olympia, hammer out a transportation package that is multimodal, not auto-centric, and enact it into law.