NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, November 19th, 2019

Plaintiffs challenging Tim Eyman’s I-976 ask for injunction to block its implementation

Tim Eyman’s incredibly destructive Initiative 976 should be blocked from taking effect until its constitutionality (or lack thereof) can be determined by the courts, a coalition of plaintiffs challenging the measure declared in a request for a preliminary injunction filed this week before Superior Court Judge Marshall Ferguson.

The measure, which voters considered on the November 2019 ballot and which is destined to pass, attempts to repeal billions of dollars in funding for bipartisan, voter-approved transportation investments at the state, regional, and local levels.

“Whether the communities are large or small, rural or urban, the damage will be pervasive, and there is no corner of Washington that avoids harm,” attorneys for the plaintiffs wrote. “That harm will only deepen and spread with time.”

They then cited two examples of jurisdictions that will be immediately and severely harmed if I-976 is not stopped from taking effect on December 5th, 2019:

For example, the City of Seattle alone faces the loss of $2,680,000 in revenue in just the first twenty-seven days of I-976’s implementation, which over time could lead to approximately 175,000 annual transit hours of King County Metro service being cut. Plaintiff Garfield County Transportation Authority, providing essential ‘lifeline’ support to the State’s smallest county, would face a cut of more than half its services.

An injunction barring I-976 from going into effect would keep dollars flowing to crucial projects and services while the legal challenge against I-976 is considered by the courts. Plaintiffs want Judge Ferguson to order that the State and its officials be enjoined from taking any action to implement I-976 during the pendency of the lawsuit, and direct the Department of Licensing to go on collecting all fees, taxes, and charges that I-976 seeks to repeal while the measure is stayed..

“An injunction is warranted because Plaintiffs are likely to prevail on the merits of their constitutional claims,” plaintiffs’ counsel explained. “Washingtonians were not presented with one clear and constitutional choice at the ballot box. Instead, as with prior unconstitutional initiatives by the same sponsor, I-976 is a poorly drafted hodge-podge that violates multiple constitutional provisions.”

Specifically, plaintiffs say they instead to prove that:

  • I-976 violates the single subject rule (the same defect that has resulted in the demise of several previous Tim Eyman initiatives)
  • I-976 violates the subject-in-title rule because the ballot title incorrectly
    states that voter-approved fees are not affected and does not disclose
    all of the initiative’s additional subjects
  • I-976 violates Article II, Section 37 of the Washington State Constitution because it does not fully set forth all amendments to existing statutes
  • I-976 violates separation of powers principles by intruding on administrative matters properly left for the executive branch.
  • I-976 impairs existing contracts in violation of the contracts clause

It is unlikely that we will ever find out if all of these defects are present in the initiative because the courts do not like to take up moot questions. If I-976 is held unconstitutional because it contains multiple subjects, its other constitutional defects will become irrelevant. The initiative will be struck down in its entirety if the first alleged defect is present, because logrolling is a fatal defect.

Accompanying the motion for a preliminary injunction is a long list of declarations and exhibits that provide evidence in support of plaintiffs’ arguments.

Last week, Tim Eyman tried to dismiss this legal challenge as a sloppy attempt to thwart I-976, but he clearly doesn’t believe that spin himself, as he has begun frantically contacting county commissioners in counties where I-976 passed, urging them to intervene in the lawsuit on his behalf.

If you read the motion, you can see it’s well researched and well argued… just what I would expect from the attorneys whose names are on it. (The City of Seattle is represented by Pete Holmes and his staff, King County by Dan Satterberg and his staff, and the other plaintiffs by Pacifica Law Group, which has represented this organization, the Northwest Progressive Institute, in separate matters.)

Motion for an injunction to block Eyman's I-976

Around midway through, the motion for a preliminary injunction describes I-976’s dishonest provisions and ballot title as “unconscionable and unconstitutional.”

Those words should be part of the eventual epitaph for Initiative 976.

HERE LIES
INITIATIVE 976
AN UNCONSCIONABLE, UNCONSTITUTIONAL INITIATIVE THAT WAS DISHONESTLY WRITTEN AND DISHONESTLY MARKETED TO VOTERS
MAY IT BE AN EXAMPLE OF HOW NOT TO CRAFT FISCAL POLICY

Every Tim Eyman initiative that has previously been challenged in the courts has been overturned in whole or in part, so it’s not much of a leap to presume that Initiative 976 will be struck down as unconstitutional before long.

As the plaintiffs have said, I-976 is brimming with constitutional defects, just like the last measure Eyman got past the voters (I-1366 from 2015), which I characterized as unconstitutional every way to Sunday.

Eyman was supremely confident that I-1366 would be upheld despise its obvious unconstitutionality. When the ruling came down that I-1366 was unconstitutional, Eyman was stunned, and a KING5 camera captured his reaction for posterity.

Eyman in disblief over I-1366 court decision

Tim Eyman can’t believe the verdict in Lee v. State (Courtesy of KING5)

This time around, Eyman seems to be harboring no illusions that he’ll prevail.

In addition to disingenuously grousing that Attorney General Bob Ferguson is trying to “sabotage” the measure that he failed to put any care into crafting when he wrote it, Eyman is also irresponsibly urging his followers to “refuse to pay their car tabs if their bill includes fees or taxes eliminated by I-976”.

Breaking the law has gotten Tim Eyman into heaps of trouble that Eyman has been unable to dig his way out of. If Eyman’s followers don’t want to follow him off the proverbial cliff, they’ll decline his exhortations to become freeloading lawbreakers.

Tuesday, November 19th, 2019

What to watch for in the November 2019 Democratic presidential candidates’ debate

On Wednesday, the ten leading Democratic candidates will meet in Atlanta, GA, for the fifth presidential primary debate of this election cycle.

The candidates on stage will be as follows:

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts
  • Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont
  • Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana
  • Senator Kamala Harris of California
  • Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey
  • Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota
  • Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii
  • Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang
  • Billionaire activist Tom Steyer

The stage will be back down to just ten podiums on one night as it was for the September debate. Viewers might miss a couple of familiar faces, such as former Representative Beto O’Rourke (who dropped out of the race at the start of this month) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, who failed to meet the criteria to qualify for the November debate.

This round of the debates had the most rigorous criteria yet for entry: candidates had to earn 3% in four national polls, or 5% in two early state polls, and their campaigns had to have at least 165,000 unique donors, six hundred of whom had to be from at least twenty states.

The debate will to some extent be overshadowed by the ongoing impeachment process in Washington D.C., especially with the House of Representatives having began televised hearings. As Margaret O’Mara – an American history professor at the University of Washington – put it, there is now “an even bigger television event that’s overshadowing them.” Although none of the candidates are directly involved in the impeachment process, five of them are sitting Senators who may eventually have a say in whether President Trump is removed from office.

The impeachment inquiry will also be an opportunity for all the candidates to emphasize their unified opposition to Trump’s actions as the current occupant of the presidency, as they have done in previous debates.

Another issue that is guaranteed to come up in this debate is healthcare, which has played a dominant role in the previous debates.

This time, however, Elizabeth Warren could have an edge, having recently released a comprehensive, fully-costed plan for implementing Medicare for All.

In October’s debate, Warren’s weakest moment came when Joe Biden and other candidates battered her for evading questions about whether her plan will raise middle-class taxes; now she will be able to confidently tell her opponents that her ambitious proposal won’t raise middle class taxes by a dime, while raising the standard and fairness of healthcare in the country enormously.

It is hard to see how Biden and other neoliberal Democrats will be able to counter this, beyond dredging up the Republican-style talking points that have already been debunked by Warren’s campaign and progressive thinkers.

The issue of reproductive justice is almost certain to come up, especially since MSNBC and The Washington Post have chosen an all-female panel to moderate. However, there is unlikely to be much substantial debate over this issue, since all the candidates’ positions are more or less aligned.

This will be another opportunity for the Democrats to lambast the Trump regime over its opposition to womxn’s reproductive freedoms.

Wednesday’s debate will be held in Atlanta, a hub of black culture and activism, and questions concerning racial, criminal and social justice are bound to arise.

Joe Biden has the most to lose here; although he has strong support among black voters, his long and problematic record on racial issues (he supported “tough on crime” policies that decimated nlack communities, opposed desegregation busing, and boasted about his “civility” towards openly racist segregationist senators).

Warren – who has had trouble making inroads with the black community – will want to use the opportunity, but it is unclear what path she could take to do so.

Bernie Sanders has a strong base of support among millennial African-Americans, who tend to be far more left-leaning and activist than their elders and will probably use questions concerning race to critique the broad inequalities plaguing America.

Beyond issues centering on racial justice, the fact that the debate takes place in Georgia may prompt some questions about the state’s political future.

While Georgia has been a reliably red state for a number of years, Democrats have high hopes of flipping it to blue, especially since both of the state’s seats in the United States Senate are up for grabs next year.

Stacey Abrams’ pioneering gubernatorial candidacy showed that Democrats could be competitive in Georgia. Abrams lost a close race to Republican Brian Kemp, who used his power as Secretary of State to put tens of thousands of African-Americans’ voter registrations on hold until his victory. The issue of voter suppression is a vital one in Georgia, and Democratic presidential candidates would be smart to come to the stage with ideas of how to fight back.

(Abrams will be in Seattle this Sunday for a fundraising brunch in support of Jay Inslee, who is running for a third term as Governor of Washington State.)

Given the tightening in the polls between the candidates and the fact that the field is now in a headlong rush towards the Iowa caucuses in February, viewers should expect some fierce interpersonal sparring.

Warren and Biden are both the front-runners and representatives of the party’s two major conflicting wings, as well as having a long history of personal dislike for one another. These two have already sparred fiercely in previous debates and there seems no reason to doubt that this will happen again.

Warren and Sanders have maintained a semi-alliance so far in this primary, but there is increasingly anti-Warren sentiment on the left.

Sanders’ position has recently been strengthened by a flood of endorsements from progressive organizations, and this may embolden him.

Mayor Buttigieg has so far had fairly quiet and unremarkable debate performances, but he has been steadily rising in the polls. He is in such a strong position in Iowa there is now talk that he may win the crucial first-in-the-nation caucus.

The other campaigns have noticed this, and he will have to prepare for more targeted scrutiny and criticism than he has previously had to deal with.

The debate will take place on Wednesday November 20th from 6 PM to 8 PM Pacific. It will be broadcast on MSNBC, and will be available to stream on MSNBC.com as well as on The Washington Post’s website. You can also follow along with us here on The Cascadia Advocate during that same timeframe.

Saturday, November 16th, 2019

Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards reelected in Louisiana to new four year term

Another win for the Democratic Party, another defeat for Donald J. Trump.

Voters in Louisiana tonight have reelected incumbent Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards, keeping the Pelican State’s top elected position in Democratic hands for another four years. With 99% of precincts in Louisiana reporting, Bel Edwards had 51% of the vote (773,118 votes as of 8:40 PM Pacific), while Republican challenger Eddie Rispone had 49% of the vote (733,160 votes).

Bel Edwards’ nearly forty thousand vote lead was propelled by three key parishes: Orleans (home of New Orleans), East Baton Rouge, and Caddo.

In Orleans Parish, Bel Edward has a jaw-dropping 90% of the vote (114,812 votes), while in East Baton Rouge, he has 66% (102,671 votes) and in Caddo he has 58% (44,687 votes). Bel Edwards also performed well in Jefferson Parish, with 57% of the vote (72,192 votes) and West Baton Rouge with 57% (6,501 votes).

“Louisiana, Kentucky, and Virginia have delivered a devastating warning to Donald Trump’s Republican Party — Governor Edwards’ victory is another sign of Democrats’ surging strength,” said Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez in a statement celebrating the victory. “As voters reject the GOP agenda, Democrats are competing and winning in every corner of the country. Less than a year before the 2020 election, the wind is firmly at our backs.”

Perez’ statement noted that the Democratic National Committee invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Louisiana Democratic Party to support Bel Edwards and the Democratic ticket. Clearly, that investment has paid off.

“Rispone, a seventy-year-old businessman making his first run for public office, had President Donald Trump at his side at rallies – along with $2 million and sixty paid staffers sent at the last minute from the Republican National Committee and millions more from the Republican Governors Association – hoping to flip the office to the GOP,” noted The Advocate of Baton Rouge.

“Rarely have presidents been so involved in a state-level race,” The Advocate’s staff report observed, explaining: “Trump visited Louisiana three times to rally Republican and rural voters to head to the polls and ‘fire’ Edwards, calling him ‘a radical.’ Trump told Louisiana voters they could send a message to national Democrats that they stood behind him by voting for Rispone.”

Instead of heeding Trump, voters in Louisiana have chosen to reelect John Bel Edwards, emphatically rebuking Donald Trump just days after voters in Kentucky dumped Republican Governor Matt Bevin and voters in Virginia gave Democrats unified control over the statehouse in Richmond.

Bel Edwards is the only Democratic governor in the Deep South.

The governor’s reelection victory is all the more significant in that it came in a Saturday runoff election in the middle of November. Democrats are often at a disadvantage in lower turnout elections, but they were able to return Bel Edwards to the governor’s mansion in this runoff. Quite the accomplishment.

“Have to give credit to Edwards/Dems’ runoff turnout operation, particularly w/ African-American voters,” tweeted Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report. “Compared to the primary, turnout was up… 29% in New Orleans, 26% in Shreveport, 14% in Baton Rouge (w/ 6 precincts still out).

“And just 9% everywhere else.”

Friday, November 15th, 2019

Deval Patrick enters 2020 Democratic presidential sweepstakes at the eleventh hour

Less than a week after Michael Bloomberg revealed he plans to seek the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, another very late contender has stepped forward: Ex-Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts.

In his announcement video Patrick (the first black governor in Massachusetts’ history) said his candidacy would focus not only on the character of the individual candidates, but on the “character of the country,” arguing that the country needs unity and a new American dream for people to strive towards.

Patrick has a clear strategy for establishing himself in the race.

Of the four early primary states, he plans to invest in New Hampshire (which he registered for on Friday at the last possible moment), where his experience as the governor of a neighboring state could give him an edge over the competition, and South Carolina, where his close personal and political links to former President Obama might help him to woo black voters who currently favor Joe Biden.

Deval Patrick speaks to a Chamber of Commerce meeting in 2013 (Source: MassDOT, reproduced under Creative Commons license)

Patrick served as governor between 2007 and 2015 (Source: MassDOT, reproduced under Creative Commons license)

However, there are numerous and significant obstacles in Patrick’s path.

Firstly, time will be a huge factor in his run; the former governor has already missed the filing deadline for the Alabama and Arkansas primaries, which are both Super Tuesday states, and will struggle to connect with voters who have been hearing from various other Democratic candidates for over a year at this point.

This organizing effort will not be easy for Patrick to put together; with the contest well underway, there are few experienced Democratic operatives who are available to take jobs with a brand new presidential campaign. Many of Patrick’s personal allies are already committed to other campaigns: Doug Rubin is working for Tom Steyer and John Walsh is working on Senator Ed Markey’s re-election bid.

This lack of staff is apparent from Patrick’s announcement video. His story of growing up in an urban community and overcoming challenges is similar to that of Senator Cory Booker’s, but in comparison to Booker’s slick and energetic announcement video, Patrick’s is reminiscent of a PowerPoint presentation.

Even if Patrick is able to cobble together a competent team, it is unclear how he would pay them. Unlike Michael Bloomberg, Patrick can’t tap a gigantic personal fortune to turbo-charge his campaign. Meanwhile, many prominent, affluent Democratic donors who might have supported him if he had committed to a run earlier are already committed to supporting other candidates.

Progressive candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have pioneered grassroots fundraising techniques that allow them to avoid relying on big money. But that approach probably won’t work for Patrick.

In part, that’s because Patrick has a long history of working with companies and industries that grassroots Democratic activists don’t like – an oil company that dumped chemicals in the Amazonian rainforest, a firm peddling subprime mortgages in the run up to the 2008 crash, Mitt Romney’s venture capital company, and Coca-Cola, who at the time were hiring fascist mercenaries to attack labor organizers in their South American plants.

Perhaps the biggest question looming over Patrick’s candidacy is simply, “Why?”

Patrick doesn’t seem to be bringing anything new or interesting to the race; he’s a neoliberal (but so are Biden, Klobuchar, and Buttigieg), he is black (but so are Cory Booker and Kamala Harris) and he’s pushing a message of unity (but then, so is practically every candidate in their own way).

Furthermore, despite the misgivings of wealthy Democratic donors at Manhattan cocktail parties, ordinary Democratic voters really like the candidates already available (two thirds say the field is “excellent” or “good”).

Patrick’s rationale for joining the race, as expressed on ‘CBS This Morning’ last month, is that the Biden campaign’s support was too “soft” and that the campaign was “contracting rather than expanding.” Patrick – as a neoliberal with a long career as a corporate lawyer – is no doubt worried that a collapse by Biden would open the door to the nomination of Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

However, his entry (along with Michael Bloomberg’s) into the Democratic presidential sweepstakes may actually split the neoliberal vote further, making it more likely that Warren or Sanders could clinch the nomination.

Thursday, November 14th, 2019

A slap in the face to voters? That’s a fitting description of the Initiative 976 ballot title

Last week, after the initial 2019 election returns were published, a giddy Tim Eyman wasted no time in unleashing a torrent of fresh insults and put downs directed at his opponents. Eyman publicly jeered that elected leaders like King County Executive Dow Constantine “were going through the five stages of grief” and would eventually arrive at the fifth stage (“acceptance”) before very long.

It appears that it’s Eyman who is in the midst of a major crash, however.

Eyman’s mood has gone from euphoric and giddy on Election Night to feisty and eager for a confrontation with opponents only a couple days later to extremely petulant and whiny the week after. Eyman has complained of being “bullied” by his opposition at the Seattle City Hall confrontation he instigated. He has grumbled about being temporarily suspended from being able to post to Facebook, which he seems addicted to. And, of course, he’s mad I-976 is being challenged in court.

“Seattle government is suing the voters because the voters disobeyed and voted for it anyway,” yelped Eyman in a statement distributed to reporters. “It’s a slap in the face to the people who clearly oppose these dishonest vehicle taxes.”

You want to talk about a slap in the face to voters, Tim?

Then let’s talk about the Initiative 976 ballot title — the words and phrases that represented I-976 on Washingtonians’ ballots this autumn. If there were a contest for worst ballot title in state history, I-976 would be a formidable contender.

Here’s the I-976 ballot title, written by the Office of the Attorney General, the state agency that Tim Eyman now appears to loathe more than any other:

Initiative Measure No. 976 concerns motor vehicle taxes and fees.

This measure would repeal, reduce, or remove authority to impose certain vehicle taxes and fees; limit annual motor-vehicle-license fees to $30, except voter-approved charges; and base vehicle taxes on Kelley Blue Book value.

Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ]

This ballot title, like the initiative that it purports to describe, is a blazing dumpster fire. Voters are not given any information with which they could use to make an informed decision about this issue. It is a failure in every respect.

It’s also, I believe, an illegal ballot title.

RCW 29A.72.050 states:

The concise description [for an initiative to the people, an initiative to the legislature, a referendum bill, or a referendum measure] must contain no more than thirty words, be a true and impartial description of the measure’s essential contents, clearly identify the proposition to be voted on, and not, to the extent reasonably possible, create prejudice either for or against the measure.

The I-976 ballot title flunks all of these requirements. It is not a true or impartial description of the measure’s contents, it does not clearly identify what is being voted upon, and it creates prejudice in favor of the measure.

It has no value at all, not even as fodder for a public opinion survey.

If someone suggested this language to NPI use for a question in one of our research polls, we would reject it immediately. A question that invites a particular answer is not a question that will yield useful data.

A better ballot title would have been:

Initiative Measure No. 976 concerns transportation funding.

This measure would eliminate motor vehicle fees supporting state and local transportation improvements. Vehicle fees would be limited to $30, costing an estimated $4.2 billion in funding for projects and services through 2025.

Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ]

I just wrote the above over the course of about five to ten minutes. That is how long it took me to come up with a first draft of a more defensible ballot title. And I am not a lawyer. Question development is, however, a skill I have a lot of practice with, because I write survey questions frequently.

I appreciate that neutral question writing is difficult. It’s really an art form.

Notice what is different about my theoretical ballot title.

It is much more straightforward and avoids the use of words like “certain” and “except”, which the AGO’s attorneys flagrantly overuse in ballot titles.

It also concisely describes the tradeoffs of the measure: cheaper car tabs mean loss of funding for projects and services without a replacement revenue source.

(The fiscal impact statement was actually not available when the I-976 ballot title was written, but I believe Washington State law should require fiscal impact statements to be completed as part of the process of finalizing an initiative, so my theoretical ballot title incorporates the fiscal impact estimates.)

For the purposes of this particular experiment in alternative language, I kept my ballot title limited to the length currently prescribed by state law.

A longer ballot title, however, would allow more context to be offered to voters. Local propositions typically have longer titles than statewide initiatives do and are more descriptive. State law should be changed to permit state-level measure ballot titles to be longer (the concise description is currently limited to thirty words).

When voters are being asked to decide the fate of proposed laws, they need be given sufficient information to make an informed decision.

With I-976, they weren’t. In fact, with I-976, they were lied to.

Let’s go back to the original I-976 ballot title.

“This measure would repeal, reduce, or remove authority to impose certain vehicle taxes and fees; limit annual motor-vehicle-license fees to $30, except voter-approved charges; and base vehicle taxes on Kelley Blue Book value,” it says.

As I explained last week, a voter reading this might justifiably conclude that the initiative they’re being asked to approve or reject limits motor vehicle license fees to thirty dollars except for “voter approved charges”, which would be exempt.

But contrary to what its title says, Initiative 976 does not exempt previously adopted “voter approved charges” from being eliminated. Seattle, for instance, has a voter approved charge that benefits Metro bus service and Sound Transit has one for light rail, commuter rail, bus rapid transit, and express bus expansion.

I-976 would repeal those fees even though the voters authorized them.

The reference to Kelley Blue Book value in the title is also a big problem.

There is a provision in the initiative that requires Kelley Blue Book data to be used to calculate a future motor vehicle excise tax. The ballot title doesn’t bother to explain that only people in Sound Transit’s jurisdiction currently pay an MVET or that the initiative seeks to repeal that MVET entirely, which would make the provision about basing the valuation on Kelley Blue Book data irrelevant.

Eyman put the Kelley Blue Book provision into Initiative 976 because he wanted a ballot title that would support the talking points he had developed for Initiative 976 (vote for this measure and it’ll fix dishonest vehicle taxes!). Eyman succeeded in getting the Attorney General’s office to give him what he wanted and then he picked the I-976 ballot title as the language that he wanted voters to see.

The practice of filing multiple initiatives with different provisions in order to obtain a favorable ballot title is known as ballot title shopping.

It is an abusive practice that wastes public tax dollars (oh, the irony…) but the Legislature has failed to put a stop to it, so Eyman has gone on doing it.

The AGO wrote a very different ballot title for I-975, one of the alternatives to I-976 that Eyman filed on the very same day as I-976. Here’s that title:

Initiative Measure No. 975 concerns motor vehicle taxes and fees.

This measure would repeal or remove authority to impose certain vehicle taxes and fees, including charges funding mass-transit or regional transportation; limit motor-vehicle-license fees to $30, except voter-approved charges; and change vehicle-valuation laws.

Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ]

This title is better than the I-976 ballot title, although it still contains defects. The AGO generated a similar title for Initiative 976, filed on March 14th, 2018.

The lesson here is that language matters. Words mean things. If you ask a loaded question, you’ll get a loaded answer. The I-976 ballot title invited a yes vote on Initiative 976, stacking the deck in Eyman’s favor from the very beginning. The opposition coalition, which NPI was a part of, raised millions of dollars in an attempt to overcome the bad ballot title, but the bad ballot title won out.

The terrible I-976 ballot title is the real slap in the face to voters.

People rightly expect that when they are asked to make a decision about something, they be given the facts necessary to render an informed decision.

Fact-finding — the pursuit of truth — is essential to journalism, essential to criminal/civil justice, and essential to our democracy.

As a people, we cannot have any confidence in a decision that was made based on bad information. That is why is so important that Initiative 976 is being challenged in court. The measure must be thrown out, and the Legislature must make initiative reform a priority in 2020 so that cons like Initiative 976 can’t be run against the people of Washington State in the future.

Wednesday, November 13th, 2019

The battle against Tim Eyman’s I-976 goes on as local governments, ATU file suit to stop it

The second round of the fight to defeat Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976 is officially underway. Today, a coalition of plaintiffs led by King County and the City of Seattle filed suit in King County Superior Court seeking an order striking down the initiative as unconstitutional. The plaintiffs are also asking for an injunction barring I-976’s implementation until the legal challenge is resolved.

“Here in King County – where Sound Transit 3 was overwhelmingly approved and I-976 was defeated by nearly 60 percent – we follow the will of the people and the rule of law,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine.

“We join with others across the state to challenge the constitutionality of I-976, even as we renew our long-standing demand that the legislature reform the tax system and provide better funding options to local governments across the state. The only responsible choice is to push ahead, building a transportation system and economy that gives every person access to a better future.”

It’s important to know that the plaintiffs in this lawsuit include local governments all over the state, represented through the Association of Washington Cities and the Washington State Transit Association.

Here’s an introduction to all of the plaintiffs, courtesy of King County:

  • Garfield County Transportation Authority, which provides transit to the smallest county in the state. With an annual budget of about $350,000, it relies heavily on state grants. If allowed to take effect, I-976 could reduce transit service in Garfield County by at least fifty percent.
  • Intercity Transit provides services in Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater, Yelm and surrounding areas. I-976 would reduce funding for shuttles, vanpool services, and service for people with disabilities, among other cuts.
  • King County, the state’s largest county, could lose $52 million in Regional Mobility Grant Program awards that fund RapidRide expansion and reliability improvements, $36 million for transit serving persons with disabilities, and other critical transportation funding.
  • City of Seattle would lose about $35 million that funds approximately 8,000 weekly trips in addition to funding for 14,000 ORCA passes for students, low income residents and seniors. Routes funded by the Transportation Benefit District provide off-peak transit options critical to reducing congestion and increasing equitable access to transportation. Also at jeopardy is more than $8M in road maintenance, transit corridor and bike and pedestrian safety projects.
  • The Port of Seattle, which contends that increased regional congestion would interfere with cargo terminals, Sea-Tac Airport, industrial lands, and other facilities.
  • Association of Washington Cities represents 281 cities and towns. Sixty cities and towns have adopted vehicle license fees, raising $58.2 million for local transportation needs. I-976 would eliminate this funding.
  • Washington State Transit Association represents thirty-one transit system that provide 238 million passenger trips annually on buses, paratransit, vanpools, light and commuter rail. I-976 could eliminate essential funding for these services.
  • Amalgamated Transit Union Legislative Council of Washington advocates on behalf of employees who operate public transportation. I-976 would likely eliminate hundreds of millions of dollars from transportation budgets, resulting in the loss of family wage jobs.
  • Michael Rogers is a Lacey resident with cerebral palsy. He relies on paratransit and transit services, and faces substantial harm from I-976, which would likely eliminate funding for services upon which he relies.

Here’s the complaint:

Legal challenge against Tim Eyman's I-976

The City of Seattle and King County are represented by in-house counsel (headed by City Attorney Pete Holmes and County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, respectively) while the remaining plaintiffs are represented by Paul Lawrence, Matthew Segal, Jessica Skelton, and Shae Blood of Pacifica Law Group.

Although we are not a plaintiff in this lawsuit, NPI is among Pacifica Law Group’s clients and we have the highest confidence in their abilities.

Senior litigation partner Paul Lawrence is a recipient of NPI’s highest honor, the Lynn Allen Award, for indispensable contributions to progressive causes. Paul was the lead counsel in the successful litigation against Tim Eyman’s last awful initiative, I-1366, which was struck down in its entirety by the State Supreme Court.

There’s no one I trust more to handle this litigation than Dan Satterberg, Pete Holmes, and Paul’s team at Pacifica Law Group. If anyone can prove that I-976 is unconstitutional (and our team at NPI emphatically believes it is), they can.

Sunday, November 10th, 2019

MLS Cup returns to Cascadia as Seattle Sounders defeat Toronto FC at home

Seattle has another championship!

The Seattle Sounders brought a second MLS Cup home to Cascadia this afternoon in front of a sold-out crowd at CenturyLink Field, defeating Toronto FC 3-1 to become Major League Soccer’s 2019 champions.

It was the third championship match played between the two teams.

The Sounders defeated Toronto in 2016 to secure their first-ever MLS Cup, then lost a rematch to Toronto one year later, in 2017.

Today, the Sounders avenged that loss on their own home turf.

It was the most satisfying win in franchise history, one that will be savored and remembered for a long, long, long, long time.

“Walking out, I got a little teary-eyed, because it’s a huge moment. You realize this before the game starts, the few precious moments before and you’re literally inside the powderkeg – it’s incredible, it’s a dream come true,” goalkeeper Stefan Frei said in comments reflecting on the significance of the game.

The team scored all three of its goals in the second half.

Kelvin Leerdam scored the first goal, with a little bit of help from Toronto (the ball zigzagged into the net thanks to a deflection gone wrong).

Victor Rodriguez scored the second goal with a picture-perfect shot past Quentin Westberg, the Toronto keeper, into the corner.

Raul Ruidiaz scored the final goal not long after, putting the game out of reach from the visiting team. Toronto did manage to answer with one goal, averting a shutout, but by that point, the Sounders’ victory felt all but inevitable.

Since its founding in 2009, this team has become one of Major League Soccer’s most decorated franchises. In ten years, the team has accomplished all of this:

  • MLS Cup champions (2): 2016, 2019
  • MLS Cup runners-up (1): 2017
  • MLS Cup Playoff berths (10): 2010-2019
  • Supporters’ Shield (1): 2014
  • U.S. Open Cup champions (3): 2010, 2011, 2014
  • U.S. Open Cup runners-up (1): 2012
  • Concacaf Champions League berths (5): 2010-2012, 2015, 2018

In addition, Seattle has won six Cascadia Cup titles (in 2006, 2007, 2011, 2015, 2018, and 2019). Seattle is tied with Vancouver for the most Cascadia Cup titles overall. The MLS incarnation of the Sounders has the most Cup titles (four).

NPI congratulates the Sounders on their second MLS Cup victory. It was no easy feat, but they pulled it off and gave their fans the best holiday gift imaginable. Thanks for lifting everyone’s spirits, Sounders. We’ll treasure this championship.

Now it’s time to celebrate. See you at the victory parade on Tuesday!

Friday, November 8th, 2019

Challenger Varisha Khan overtakes incumbent Hank Myers in Redmond City Council race

This is turning out to be quite the drama-filled local election year!

Less than an hour ago, a Redmond City Council race that didn’t look all that competitive on Election Night saw a lead change. In the contest for Redmond City Council Position #1, challenger Varisha Khan is now leading entrenched incumbent Hank Myers… by a mere nineteen votes.

Khan is a young Muslim woman who is making her first run for elected office. She has been active in progressive politics for several years, working with OneAmerica and serving as a delegate for Bernie Sanders to the 2016 Democratic National Convention. She was also chosen to serve as the Democratic presidential elector for Washington’s 1st Congressional District in 2016. In that role, she helped make history by casting a vote for Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College.

I bring the perspective as the daughter of parents who chose many years ago to make Redmond their home, and I’m also someone who has again chosen Redmond as a home for my own family,” Khan wrote in a message to voters published on her campaign website. “At a time when Redmond is changing and growing so quickly, it is so important for our city council to have the perspective of someone who understands why people want to live and work here. I chose Redmond and I hope you will choose me for Redmond City Council!”

Myers is a Republican who previously ran for the Washington State House of Representatives seven years ago and got trounced by now-Lieutenant Governor Cyrus Habib. He has served several terms on the Redmond City Council and was backed in his reelection by prominent development interests in Redmond.

During his time on the Redmond City Council, Myers has consistently opposed any and all efforts to take positions against destructive right wing initiatives such as those sponsored by Tim Eyman. Myers has also regularly espoused right wing talking points on issues like transportation from his seat on the dais.

Redmond (NPI’s hometown) is one of Washington State’s most progressive cities and Democratic activists on the Eastside have long argued that it deserves more diverse and effective representation. After failing to recruit anyone to run against Myers the last time his position was contested, Democratic and progressive activists jumped at the opportunity to back a credible challenger to Myers.

On Election Night, as mentioned, Myers appeared to be cruising to reelection, with 55% of the vote… a seemingly decisive ten point lead.

But the late ballots have consistently gone against Myers. His share of the vote has dwindled with each passing day. And as of tonight, he’s losing.

After King County reported its second ballot drop of the day, Khan found herself in first place. She leads with 6,508 votes (49.94%), while Myers has 6,489 votes (49.80%). There are thirty-four write-in votes.

What an incredible comeback. While Seattle’s Kshama Sawant is known for late inning wins, it’s a feat very few other candidates ever pull off.

Khan’s work to get out the vote down the stretch appears to have paid off handsomely. Regardless of the final outcome, she has made this race as competitive as it could possibly be. This race could easily end up in a recount, with the winner not known for certain until after the election is certified.

Friday, November 8th, 2019

Friday afternoon ballot counting update: R-88 briefly takes lead, Sawant overtakes Orion

Good evening! Here’s the latest developments in the 2019 general election, which remains an election in progress until the ballots are counted.

Referendum 88 goes from failing to passing, then flips back

It’s high drama for Referendum 88, also known as Initiative 1000.

I-1000 is the measure that would relax some of the absurd, burdensome prohibitions imposed by Tim Eyman’s I-200 two decades ago on public agencies and institutions of higher learning. I-1000 would allow agencies to reach out to historically disadvantaged groups and communities to inform them of opportunities to apply for jobs and contracts.

After several days of counting, there’s almost no gap whatsoever between the yes camp and the no camp. For a short while this afternoon, the measure — which had thus far been failing — took a lead for the first time in the count, propelled by newly tabulated ballots reported by King County.

That lead was short-lived. King County’s neighbors quickly proceeded to put the opposition back on top. Referendum 88 is back to failing… for now. King County has a second ballot drop planned for today, around 8:30 PM, which could once again put Initiative 1000 in the lead. That would be a welcome development.

At 4 PM, thanks to King County, Referendum 88 had a lead of just eight hundred and forty-two votes, out of more than 1.4 million votes cast. Incredible.

By 6:30 PM, Referendum 88 was behind by 24,752 votes.

And within hours, it may lead again.

Initiative 976 continues to slide

The NO vote against Tim Eyman’s I-976 continues to grow.

As of this afternoon, it was up to 46.68%. On Election Night, it was 44.24%.

Six counties are rejecting I-976 and thirty-three are passing it.

In Kitsap County, the NO vote is up to 49.20%, and there are an estimated 7,000 ballots left to count there. Eyman’s position leads by just 1,077 votes in Kitsap, so a lead change is possible. Might Kitsap County flip to the NO side? We’ll find out on Tuesday, when Kitsap County is next expected to report.

Kshama Sawant overtakes Egan Orion

As of this afternoon, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant is now winning reelection and is likely to end the count ahead of challenger Egan Orion.

On Election Night, Sawant had 45.61% of the vote.

Now she has 50.45% of the vote. She gained on Orion in the Wednesday and Thursday counts. Today she seized the lead… probably for good.

“Our vote continues to grow, with Councilmember Kshama Sawant capturing 58% of the latest ballot drop,” Sawant’s campaign said in a jubilant Facebook posting. “We now lead our opponent by 513 votes! As votes continue to be tallied, it’s more important than ever that we fight to make sure every vote is counted.”

“We know that that Amazon and the corporate interests which have spent a record amount of money against us will leave no stone unturned. They may challenge votes in an effort to disenfranchise supporters. They will likely cure ballots too. They could also demand a recount.”

“Please join us tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM at Langston Hughes Institute to hear from Councilmember Kshama Sawant at a short press conference before we train volunteers and begin ballot curing.”

Medina levy lid lift now passing

A proposed levy to allow the City of Medina to raise more money for essential public services from property taxes is now leading… by six votes.

Six votes!

The measure had been trailing in previous counts. Yesterday, it was behind by ten votes. Now it’s ahead by six. 1,114 total votes have been cast so far, with five hundred and sixty in favor and five hundred and fifty-four against.

Passage of the levy would allow the Medina City Council to avoid cutting the city’s already overstretched public services. Although Medina is an affluent community, it faces a budget crunch without this levy lid lift.

Woodinville City Council: Nicolas Duschatel snags his first lead

Progressive challenger Nicolas Duschatel finally managed to overtake his opponent, incumbent Al Taylor, in today’s initial count of ballots.

After trailing since Tuesday, Duschatel now leads by sixteen votes, with 1,545 ballots cast in his favor. 1,539 ballots have been cast for Taylor.

This is a race that could easily see another lead change or two by the end of counting, depending on how many ballots there are left to count.

In the other contested Woodinville City Council race, progressive challenger Paul Hagen trails incumbent Gary Harris by forty-seven votes.

Hagen has yet to hold a lead in his race.

Varisha Khan within striking distance of Hank Myers in Redmond

A race that didn’t look competitive at all on Election Night has changed dramatically. Entrenched conservative Hank Myers has been losing ground all week to progressive challenger Varisha Khan for Redmond City Council Position #1. Khan is now behind Myers by only one hundred and ninety-nine votes.

Can she close the gap? Can she overtake Myers?

We’ll find out in a few hours, as King County Elections has that second ballot drop planned at around 8:30 PM tonight. This is a key race to watch.

Friday, November 8th, 2019

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg is poised to seek the Democratic presidential nomination

Billionaire media mogul and former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg is reportedly preparing to enter the Democratic presidential primary within days.

According to his closest aides, although Bloomberg has not yet made an absolute decision on running, he has sent staffers to Alabama in order to gather signatures so that he can qualify for that state’s Democratic primary (although it isn’t an early primary state, Alabama has an early deadline for entry into the race). In addition, his team have begun contacting Democratic power brokers like Governor Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island (the Chair of the Democratic Governors Association) and Harry Reid of Nevada (a former Senate Majority Leader).

Michael Bloomberg speaks at the Presidential Gun Safety forum

Michael Bloomberg speaks to gun safety activists in August (Photo: Gage Skidmore, reproduced under Creative Commons license)

While Bloomberg is a unique man, it is hard to see what distinguishing features can make him stand out to voters as a unique choice in the 2020 contest: he is an old white man (like Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and almost every other presidential candidate in United States history), he is a billionaire with a passion for climate justice (but so is Tom Steyer) and an experienced mayor (as are Pete Buttigieg and former candidate Bill de Blasio, the current mayor of New York.)

Bloomberg seemed to recognize he didn’t bring anything to a crowded field in March of this year, when he definitively declared that he would not be running for the presidency. What has changed between March and November?

According to Bloomberg’s team, the answer is that Joe Biden’s position in the primary looked unassailable back in March, whereas now the former Vice President looks comparatively weak. If Biden were to lose the nomination, Bloomberg is worried that the likely winner – either Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders – would be unable to beat Trump in the general election.

A quick look at RealClearPolitics polling averages shows that both Sanders and Warren would trounce Trump on the national level; they even beat him in crucial states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

A more likely reason for Bloomberg to take on Sanders and Warren is that he opposes their progressive views on economic and fiscal issues. While Bloomberg is a liberal on issues like gun responsibility, he is as conservative as they come on economic matters. Popular progressive ideas such as Warren’s wealth tax would ever so slightly reduce the gigantic personal fortune he’s accumulated.

On paper, Bloomberg is a political force to be reckoned with. He has decades-long relationships with many of the most powerful figures in the Democratic Party’s establishment, as well as his own media company, Bloomberg News, to spread his message. He is also staggeringly wealthy; with a net worth of $52 billion, he makes even Tom Steyer ($1.6 billion) look like a pauper.

With that level of personal fortune, he won’t face the kind of financial challenges that are currently besetting the Biden campaign.

Despite all that, Bloomberg has only a tiny chance of winning the Democratic primary. A recent Fox Noise Channel poll found that, while 6% of Democrats definitely support him, almost a third would never vote for him no matter what. He only has a net favorability among Democrats of +11%, despite being one of the most well known politicians in the country.

Neither Bloomberg’s ideas not his identity appear to be what the Democratic electorate are looking for in a 2020 candidate.

In a contest where debates have focused on inequalities and addressing racial differences, Bloomberg seems ready to insistently stick to his neoliberal economics and even defend the racist stop-and-frisk policies of the NYPD while he was New York’s mayor. Of course, Joe Biden shares many of Bloomberg’s policy positions, but the Vice President is more fondly viewed by middle and low income voters.

In an election where the number one priority of Democratic voters – no matter their race, class or geographic location – is to remove Donald Trump from the Oval Office, it seems inconceivable that they would turn to another New York billionaire, especially when they have the most diverse field of candidates in American history to choose a nominee from.

Thursday, November 7th, 2019

Thursday ballot counting update: Eyman’s 976 slides, Sawant gains, R-88 vote gets tighter

Good evening! Here’s the latest developments in the 2019 general election, which remains an election in progress until the ballots are counted.

Initiative 976

Tim Eyman’s I-976 lost ground for the second day in a row.

Freshly tabulated ballots pushed the NO vote statewide up to 46.08% and brought the yes share of the vote down to 53.92%. In King County, the NO on I-976 vote climbed above 58% to 58.32%. We could see it surpass 59% tomorrow.

Six counties are currently voting I-976 down: King, San Juan, Jefferson, Whatcom, Thurston, and Island. Thurston and Island joined the NO camp yesterday after favoring I-976 by very slight margins on Election Night.

Clallam County might be the next to flip. The yes vote in I-976 is down to 50.67%. The yes vote was 52.12% on Election Night.

Meanwhile, in Pierce and Snohomish counties, the yes vote shrank. In Snohomish County, late ballots have pushed the yes vote under sixty percent.

In Kitsap County, the yes vote has dwindled to 52.64%.

The Keep Washington Rolling coalition may not wind up defeating I-976 at the ballot, but when all of the ballots have been counted, Eyman’s margin is going to be a lot less impressive than it was on Election Night.

Eyman had previously predicted a 65% yes vote in every single county plus passage in Seattle, neither of which is happening.

Referendum 88/Initiative 1000

Initiative 1000, the other statewide initiative on the ballot, is still being rejected as of today’s count. But it’s not as losing by as much as it was on Election Night.

The Approved vote climbed to 48.83% statewide today, up from 48.23% on Election Night. The measure is passing in the same four counties that made up the initial NO on I-976 bloc (King, Jefferson, San Juan, Whatcom) and failing everywhere else. As with I-976, right wing turnout in Pierce and Snohomish counties is the difference maker in the statewide vote.

King County is enthusiastically approving Initiative 1000.

61.84% of voters in King are currently in the Approved camp.

“We have not conceded this race and we are continuing to watch the votes as they come in,” Washington Fairness Coalition manager Cherika Carter said in a statement. “Ballots across the State are still being counted.”

“This will come down to every last vote.”

Thank you all for helping our campaign Get Out The Vote to APPROVE I-1000 via Referendum 88 to level the playing field and make Washington a more equitable state with fairness and opportunities for all! Whether you phone banked, knocked on doors, shared our social media posts, or told a friend to tell a friend to vote to Approve I-1000, you helped us move towards a more equitable change in Washington State, and we are this close because of you. Thank you!”

“Our work as a coalition does not stop here, we will continue to fight and advocate for policy that will uplift all of us and improve the lives of all Washingtonians. No matter what happens when this election is certified the Washington Fairness Coalition is committed to equity, opportunity, and fairness for all Washingtonians.”

Seattle City Council: Kshama Sawant gains

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, an avowed socialist who embraces the politics of polarization, gained significant ground on challenger Egan Orion today.

Orion possessed what may have appeared to observers unfamiliar with Seattle politics to be a comfortable lead on Election Night.

That lead (once 1,714 votes) is now evaporating, as we expected it would.

Six years ago, in her first victorious campaign, Sawant came from behind in the late ballots to upset Richard Conlin and secure a place on the Seattle City Council.

It appears this year that Sawant could pull of a similar feat.

On Election Night, Orion had 53.99% of the vote. He’s now down to 51.02%, with a seven hundred and thirty-nine vote advantage.

That’s hardly an insurmountable lead, and Orion knows it.

“Unfortunately this election remains too close to call and it is going to be close,” Orion said in a statement. “Our campaign ran a people-powered campaign, funded by Democracy Vouchers and individual contributions that allowed us to speak with voters in every neighborhood and community across District 3. We heard loud and clear that neighbors want collaborative solutions rather than divisive politics, that centers on solutions to our city’s challenges rather than just sound bites.”

“I got into this campaign to give a voice in City Hall to every neighbor rather than represent a national movement, but this election became a national referendum on money in politics. I share the community’s concern about how much corporate spending there was in this campaign. Win or lose, I am going to work to ensure our elections are driven by people and not big corporate spending.”

“We are hopeful our work on the ground will pay off so that District 3 can get the local representation it deserves. Stay tuned!”

“Whatever the outcome of our race, it’s clear the naked attempt by Jeff Bezos to buy Seattle City council will backfire in the long run,” Sawant’s campaign declared.

“We met it with a well-prepared united front strategy to mobilize working-class anger into a unifying force, pushing even some reluctant labor and liberal leaders into alliance with socialists to fight big business.”

“This unity forged will pay even bigger dividends for Seattle’s working class in the months and years ahead. The role of Socialist Alternative, with our clear analysis, strategy, and a politically self-confident membership, was absolutely vital to moving these wider forces into united action.”

“As the wave of socialist election campaigns across the country continues to expand, our experience in Seattle should be a sobering warning of the ruthlessness of big business. At the same time, there are rich lessons of how we fought back, laid the basis for further victories for our class, and potentially even how we came back to score a victory over the richest man in the world in this election.”

“Because of Washington State’s mail-in ballot system, this election is not over. Not just because only half of the ballots have been counted, but also because 1-2% of ballots typically are ‘spoiled’ ballots, most often from voters who neglected to sign their ballot envelopes. We need to make sure the ballots of every working person are ‘cured’ so they are included in this crucial election.”

Whatcom County Executive

A hard fought race for Whatcom County Executive continues to enthrall.

Satpal Sidhu, who NPI alum Patrick Stickney has previously worked for, has expanded his lead over rival Tony Larson for the county’s top job.

Sidhu currently serves on the Whatcom County Council and decided to run for higher office when incumbent Jack Louws opted not to seek reelection.

Louws and the county’s small city mayors all back Larson, the President of the Whatcom Business Alliance. Sidhu is backed by Suzan DelBene, Rick Larsen, the Democratic Party, Washington Conservation Voters, SEIU, and the Teamsters.

Oil companies and the Associated General Contractors funded an attack campaign against Sidhu, hoping to deny him a victory, but they appear to have failed.

Sidhu was behind by sixty-one votes on Election Night. He overtook Larson yesterday and now leads by nine hundred and thirty-three votes.

Medina levy lid lift still failing, barely

A proposed levy to allow the City of Medina to raise more money from property taxes is still behind, but not by much. Yesterday, the levy was losing by just four votes. And no, that’s not a typo! Today, the gap between No and Yes is ten.

Ten votes.

That’s it.

That’s like three households of voting adults.

Four hundred and seventy four voters in the affluent lakeside suburb currently support the levy, while four hundred and eighty four voters oppose it. This measure is going to go down to the wire and we will continue to keep an eye on it.

Don’t ever let anyone get away with claiming their vote doesn’t count. It does. Close elections like this one remind us of that.

Tacoma Port Commission

In Pierce County, there’s a hotly contested race for Port Commission between Kristin Ang and Dave Bryant. Ang is an attorney and environmental champion who is backed by the Pierce County Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, Pierce County Democrats, the Sierra Club, and the Washington Conservation Voters.

Bryant is a Navy veteran who has made infrastructure improvements a theme of his campaign. They are splitting the vote almost equally.

Ang trailed on Election Night, but she’s catching up to Bryant.

As of today, she is up to 49.96% of the vote. Her deficit is just six hundred and five votes, compared to nine hundred and ninety-nine on Election Night.

Thursday, November 7th, 2019

The City of Seattle will join King County in suing to overturn Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976

The City of Seattle will join King County in initiating a legal challenge to stop Tim Eyman’s incredibly destructive Initiative 976 from taking effect, Mayor Jenny Durkan and City Attorney Pete Holmes announced at a press conference today in the Norman B. Rice Room on the seventh floor of Seattle City Hall.

“As Mayor, my core job is protect the people,” said Mayor Jenny Durkan.

“I-976 is not only unfair, it is not only unwise, it is unconstitutional.”

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and City Attorney Pete Holmes

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and City Attorney Pete Holmes announce that the city will join King County in suing to overturn Tim Eyman’s incredibly destructive Initiative 976 (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/Northwest Progressive Institute)

“We know we need to move forward as quickly as we can to secure an injunction to prevent the irreparable harm to our most vulnerable residents,” the Mayor said, explaining that the first objective in the suit would be to put the initiative on ice until its constitutionality is determined by the State Supreme Court. “While no one can be a hundred percent sure of what will happen in any court action, I have a lot of confidence in our lawyers, and in our theory, and in our courts.”

“I knew from the moment I read the text of Initiative 976 that it had some fairly obvious legal problems,” said City Attorney Pete Holmes. “Had Mr. Eyman developed an initiative that was constitutional, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Holmes said the legal challenge will be filed next week, jointly with King County, in King County Superior Court. The case will be handled in-house by city and county attorneys, as opposed to a private law firm retained by the two jurisdictions.

“The injunction is absolutely necessary to prevent this real very harm to our communities. My team has put their heads together with lawyers from King County. We’ve spent considerable time… and we’ve developed a path forward.”

Holmes and Durkan both emphasized that I-976 repeals Seattle’s city level vehicle fees, even though the fees were approved by voters a few years ago.

Eyman has dishonestly claimed that I-976 allows vehicle fees that exceed thirty dollars if they are voter approved, but in fact it doesn’t, because it explicitly repeals the statute that gives cities like Seattle the authority to levy vehicle fees in the first place. This is an issue that will be undoubtedly raised in the legal challenge.

The flawed, deceptive, one-sided I-976 ballot title reads as follows:

Initiative Measure No. 976 concerns motor vehicle taxes and fees.

This measure would repeal, reduce, or remove authority to impose certain vehicle taxes and fees; limit annual motor-vehicle-license fees to $30, except voter-approved charges; and base vehicle taxes on Kelley Blue Book value.

Should this measure be enacted into law?

Emphasis is mine.

The ballot title was written by Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office, not Tim Eyman, but Eyman picked this particular ballot title nonetheless… he filed several versions of I-976 and ended up picking the I-976 title as the one he liked best.

The city and county may argue in court that this language could lead a reasonable person trying to decide how to vote on I-976 to believe that existing motor vehicle license fees that had already received voter approval (like Seattle’s) would be exempt from the thirty dollar limitation. But again, that is not the case.

If you open the text of I-976, you’ll see that Section 6, subsection 4 of I-976 repeals RCW 82.80.140. This is the statute that gives transportation benefit districts the authority to levy vehicle fees for local transportation improvements.

With its statutory authority to levy vehicle fees to buy more Metro bus service repealed, Seattle’s voter-approved charges would have to be discontinued upon implementation of the measure, despite the assurance in the I-976 ballot title that “voter-approved charges” would be exempt from the limitation.

Note also that the ballot title does not distinguish between state, regional, and local fees… it just talks about “annual motor vehicle license fees”.

It is not stated or explained in the ballot title that “motor vehicle license fees” means a whole host of different revenue sources: state vehicle weight fees, the Sound Transit motor vehicle excise tax, city transportation benefit district vehicle fees, and the retail sales and use tax on motor vehicles.

Holmes indicated Seattle and King County will also contend that I-976 violates the single subject rule, the same flaw that brought down Eyman’s first measure to gut vehicle fees (I-695 in 1999) as well as his most recent scam, a hostage-taking scheme to force the Legislature to amend the Constitution to his liking (I-1366).

I believe the problems with the I-976 ballot title could be the key to I-976’s undoing. The ballot title is the sole representation of Initiative 976 that voters saw on their ballots. The courts will be carefully scrutinizing the title as part of their constitutional review of the initiative. Naturally, the courts will also look at the text of the measure. Each provision will be subjected to a magnifying glass.

If King County and Seattle (or Sound Transit, which I’m guessing will file its own lawsuit) can demonstrate to our state’s judiciary that the measure is unconstitutional;, it will not go into effect. Hopefully they can.

But even if I-976 gets struck down, the Legislature will still be under pressure to make significant changes to the state’s multilayered vehicle fee revenue structure.

Voters in Pierce and Snohomish counties have made their frustration with the current system evident. The Legislature will need to identify alternative means of raising revenue for the state’s multimodal transportation infrastructure regardless of what happens with the lawsuit that Seattle and King County plan to file.

On Sunday, November 17th, NPI will be hosting our first ever Postelection Brunch with legislative leaders from the House and Senate to discuss this very subject. All proceeds from the event will benefit NPI’s work. Tickets may be obtained here.

Join us for NPI's Postelection Brunch

Join us for brunch on November 17th!

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019

Thurston and Island counties defy Tim Eyman, swing into the NO on I-976 column

Today was the second day of tabulation in the November 2019 general election in Washington State, which remains an election in progress, as I stated last night.

While our analysis suggests that Tim Eyman’s incredibly destructive I-976 will still be ahead when all the ballots are counted (which is a shame), the updated returns that were released today show us moving in a positive direction.

Tim Eyman will not finish this election with the “phenomenal” numbers that had him in such a state of euphoria at the Bellevue Hyatt last night.

Keep Washington Rolling, the coalition that opposed I-976, worked hard and cooperatively to wage a vigorous, full-throated campaign against this destructive measure, and today’s results demonstrate that that work had an impact.

Last night, there were just four counties opposing I-976: King, Jefferson, San Juan, and Whatcom. But as of today, there are six! Reinforcements have arrived. Thurston County and Island County have joined the NO on I-976 column, probably for good, thanks to newly tabulated ballots favoring the NO side.

Eyman’s share of the vote statewide has begun declining as well.

As of Election Night, Eyman had 55.76% of the statewide vote. As of today, I-976 had slipped to 55.07%. The initiative will slide under 54% tomorrow, and maybe even under 53%. By Friday, Eyman will have lost even more ground.

Every day that we can reduce the share of the yes vote and increase the no vote is a good day. If we can’t defeat I-976 at the ballot, we at least want to even the score to the greatest extent that we can. And it looks like we’re on our way to accomplishing just that. Meanwhile, planning is underway for a legal challenge to continue the battle against Initiative 976 in the courts.

Thurston and Island counties were only narrowly voting for I-976 as of last night, which is why we were able to flip them in the span of a single day.

There are two other small counties that are potentially flippable: Clallam and Whitman. In Clallam, the no vote is 48,78%. In Whitman, the no vote is 48.14%. Whitman has 2,500 ballots on hand awaiting processing and Clallam has 4,250. If there are enough NO votes in the yet-to-be-tabulated ballots, then the NO on I-976 column might get even bigger by next week.

None of the big swing counties are close enough to be flipped (that’d be Snohomish, Pierce, Spokane, and Clark). There might be a chance of flipping Kitsap, though. The NO vote there is currently 47.36% and climbing, and there are a substantial number of ballots left to count… 25,000.

If enough of those 25,000 ballots favor Keep Washington Rolling’s position, Kitsap might swing away from Eyman. Fingers crossed…

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019

King County preparing legal challenge to Tim Eyman’s incredibly destructive Initiative 976

Although many ballots remain to be counted, the battle over Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976 appears set to shift to the legal arena.

King County Executive Dow Constantine announced today he has asked Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg to prepare a legal challenge to I-976, which threatens billions of dollars in bipartisan, voter-approved transportation funding.

Constantine did not specify a timetable for commencing the legal challenge, but the lawsuit could be filed within days or weeks. Barring a court-ordered injunction, Initiative 976 would otherwise take effect in early December.

I-976 is failing in King County, just like Eyman’s previous measures to slash vehicle fees (I-695 in 1999 and I-776 in 2002). Eyman repeatedly declared with absolute confidence that King County and even Seattle would support I-976.

“The passage of I-976 underscores the ongoing need for comprehensive state tax reform, but for in the short term we must clean up another mess that Tim Eyman has created for our state, our region, and our economy,” Constantine said.

“There will be many discussions in the weeks and months ahead to determine how to overcome the loss of safety and mobility caused by this irresponsible initiative, but the impact of I-976 to transportation is – in a word – devastating.”

“We and the City of Seattle share a set a principles with which we will approach mobility reductions,” the Executive added, alluding to Seattle’s investment in expanded Metro bus service hours, an investment I-976 attempts to repeal.

“These principles include: minimizing impacts to vulnerable populations, especially those with low-incomes and people of color; maintaining the ten and fifteen minute service frequency whenever possible; and minimizing overcrowding.”

Tim Eyman’s initiatives typically have constitutional defects, and King County will attempt to prove that Initiative 976 is unconstitutional in order to bar it from being implemented. Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office will be in the awkward position of having to defend the initiative at the same time preparing for trial against Tim Eyman over his many campaign finance law violations.

Ferguson will likely direct his office to have separate teams working on each case that do not communicate with each other about the respective cases. The campaign finance unit will undoubtedly continue to handle the Eyman litigation while another team attempts to defend I-976.

Other local governments — like Seattle — could potentially join King County in suing to overturn I-976. Seattle has a lot to lose if I-976 is implemented, and its city-level vehicle fee is voter-approved. Executive Constantine’s office provided this map showing all of the Metro bus routes that could be affected by the loss of funding coming from Seattle’s transportation benefit district:

Seattle Metro bus routes jeopardized by I-976

A map of bus routes that are supported by vehicle fees paid by Seattle taxpayers

“Our state’s tax system is inefficient, unfair, volatile, inadequate, and bad for business,” Executive Constantine argued. “Local governments have few tools at their disposal to provide all of the infrastructure and services on which successful communities and a thriving economy depend. Today, our economy is generating unprecedented prosperity, while at the same time governments are forced to cobble together transit and road systems from antiquated, inadequate and unpopular funding sources. We can and must do better.”

Executive Constantine is correct that we need meaningful and comprehensive tax reform. The Legislature needs to stop talking about reforming our tax code and actually start taking action. Until that becomes a priority, we will continue to be hamstrung by an inequitable, sales-tax dependent system of raising revenue that Tim Eyman can exploit to undermine people’s confidence in their government.

Executive Constantine is also wholly justified in moving forward with a legal challenge. Washington cannot afford Initiative 976. It’s irresponsible and immoral. It must be defeated. If it is not defeated in this election, it must be challenged in court. If the courts do not strike it down, there will need to be a legislative response to ensure that it cannot be implemented as designed.

The fight against I-976 must and shall continue until I-976 is vanquished.