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Monday, August 13, 2007

Educating voters about Initiative 960

In a few weeks, the state Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral argument in Futurewise v. Reed, the legal challenge filed last May to block Tim Eyman's I-960 from the ballot. While it's encouraging that the Court has taken the case on appeal, there's no guarantee it will rule to strike I-960 out.

If the Court does decide to axe the initiative, it will have to rule quickly. As Rich Roesler of the Spokesman Review points out:
-The hearing's set for Sept. 6,

-The final possible day for the state to certify the candidates and ballot measure for November is Sept. 12,

-But "the practical reality," according to Katie Blinn, with the Secretary of State's office, "is that county auditors will be formatting their general election ballots even before" Sept. 5. They want to get the ballots printed as early as possible to get them to military and overseas voters.

In similar situations in the past, the court has issued a quick, abbreviated ruling -- no opinions, just a yes/no decision, usually issued by the chief justice -- with the usual opinion, concurrences and dissents following weeks later.
The Court will be considering whether I-960 is within the scope of the initiative process. We have contended that it is not because it covertly attempts to amend the state Constitution - which can't be done by initiative in Washington.

But if the Supreme Court does not agree, or if it somehow manages to sidestep the issue, voters would end up considering I-960 even though it shouldn't be before the people. The scope issue, which is at the heart of the lawsuit, is distinctly seperate from the issue of whether the initiative is constitutional or not. The scope issue is all about what is within the parameters of the initiative process.

An initiative that declared the abolishment of the U.S. Constitution, for example, would be out of order. Similarly, I-960 is "out of order" because it tries to amend what is already in our state's Constitution, which is not within the legislative power reserved by the people of Washington to themselves.

It's both unconstitutional and outside the scope, but the Court will only be considering the scope issue under the standard it established in the Coppernoll case back in 2005, when the Court fully decided the subject matter of Initiative 330 before the election.

It's critical that we tell the electorate about the consequences of Initiative 960 so the public knows what is at stake. There's no reason to wait.

The P-I's Strange Bedfellows blog, which at times has unfortunately seemed addicted to polls, has summarized the results of a recent Elway poll on I-960:
Seven out of 10 of those surveyed said they support the idea of requiring a two-thirds majority of the Legisalture [sic] or a public vote to raise any state taxes.

Pollster Stuart Elway said 50 percent of Democrats were inclined to vote for I-960, as were 76 percent of Republicans and 67 percent of Independents. The poll of 405 registered voters in Washington state was taken earlier this month and has a margin of error of 5 percent.
Those of you who've read NPI for a long time are familiar with our skepticism of polls. While trends - collections of polls gathered over time - can be useful, single polls generally are not.

A single poll is a snapshot in time and a survey of one sample (in this case, 405 registered voters out of several million). The accuracy of the results is dependent on how the questions are phrased. The summary above does not mention whether Elway read respondents the ballot title or came up with a unique description describing what the initiative was about. What language was used, and what frames were invoked, makes an important difference.

What voters need to know is that I-960 assaults the very fabric of our republic by forcing our Legislature to operate under un-American rules. Eyman's recycled proposal turns our cherished tradition of "majority rule with minority rights" on its head by requiring two thirds supermajority approval for any increase in revenue.

If I-960 were law today, a minority of lawmakers (34 out of 98 in the House, 17 out of 49 in the Senate) would have the final say over major budgeting decisions. This is not democracy, it’s the beginning of oligarchy.

If we become dissatisfied with our leaders' job performance, we can select new ones in the next election. That is representative democracy. And it requires that government decisions be based on majority rule. The entire electorate accepts the choices made by the majority in a free election.

Laws enacted by the Legislature represent the will of the majority of lawmakers. Because we, the people, elect those lawmakers, we accept the laws.

Emmett over at Washblog has expressed concern about fundraising for I-960. It's unfortunately not unusual for the established players to take their time in gearing up for an autumn campaign against a ballot measure. Indeed, I founded Permanent Defense in 2002 because of my frustration with the lack of a dedicated, year round opposition to Eyman's initiative factory.

The campaign against I-912 took a long time to get going in 2005, but we won, despite significant obstacles in our path.

That took a huge amount of voter outreach.

We got lucky last year with I-917, which failed to make the ballot at the beginning of September 2006, ensuring a welcome Eyman-free November.

But we can't rest on our laurels and hope the Supreme Court gets rid of this tottering wreck of an initiative. Permanent Defense's website has information for voters who want to learn more about I-960 and its potential consequences.

We will be adding more resources to Permanent Defense's site over the next few weeks and preparing for a fall campaign along with the rest of the coalition.

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