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Monday, October 29, 2007

Seattle Times sinks to a new low in endorsing Tim Eyman's Initiative 960

As I noted last Monday in a lengthy post dissecting three of its editorials, the Seattle Times has opted this year to continue its tradition of publishing poorly justified endorsements in the weeks before the general election.

The Times has an extensive recent history of making bad calls, and that's why I wasn't surprised when the Times endorsed Dan Satterberg (for county prosecutor) John Marchione (for Redmond mayor) and no on Proposition 1 (Roads & Transit).

But like David Goldstein, I was surprised to learn during the weekend that the Seattle Times was endorsing Tim Eyman's Initiative 960.

(The intent of Initiative 960 is to mess with our republic by forcing the Washington State Legislature to operate under un-American rules. Initiative 960 turns our cherished tradition of "majority rule with minority rights" on its head by requiring two thirds supermajority approval for any increase in revenue.)

Why? I guess I gave the Blethens, James Vesely, Carolyn Kelly, Lee Moriwaki, Joni Balter, Lance Dickie, Bruce Ramsey, Kate Riley, and Lynne Varner too much credit. I doubted their willingness to get behind this undemocratic right wing scheme to handcuff representative democracy.

I just didn't think they could do it - it would be too embarrassing, too lamebrained, too unthinkable, too utterly insulting to readers.

But they proved me wrong.

The Times editorial board has apparently committed itself to publishing at least one endorsement each year that is so spectacularly awful that any reader need only look back into the Times archives for a few seconds to find an editorial with contradicting views. Last year it was the Mike McGavick endorsement.

This year, it's the Initiative 960 recommendation.

If the Times were consistently and unabashedly right wing, that would be one thing, but its editorial board professes to have progressive positions on issues like the climate crisis, our safety net (Social Security) media ownership, or...simple majority for school levies:
This page once again calls for a simple-majority vote to pass school levies.

Voters should approve the constitutional amendment, Engrossed House Joint Resolution 4204, on the Nov. 6 ballot. A "yes" vote would eliminate the tyranny of the minority, bringing school money measures around to the one-man/one-vote principle. Also eliminated would be the arcane requirement of minimum voter turnout: at least 40 percent of those who cast a ballot in the most recent general election. This prerequisite created an unfairly high threshold for approval.
Yes, only two weeks ago, the Seattle Times editorial board railed against the "tyranny of the minority" in urging voters to approve SJR 4204, a constitutional amendment to allow school levies to pass by simple majority.

The editorial board had the audacity to add:
Fifty percent plus one is how our democracy works.
And then, even more gallingly, just below its endorsement of I-960, the Times urged voters to reject the rainy day fund amendment, because....
Political savviness, however, does not lead to a recommended "yes" vote on Senate Joint Resolution 8206. The measure would automatically set aside 1 percent of state government revenue each year, or roughly $150 million. We are all for the savings account — yes, plenty of money in savings — but philosophically opposed to the constitutional lock on it.


Voters should say "no" because this measure binds future legislatures to the thinking of today and does so in an all but permanent way.

Anyone who believes in representative democracy — and in lawmakers in future years making important budget decisions based on what they know at the time — should decline this obviously tempting measure.


[T]oday's lawmakers should not be allowed to forecast or predict the problems the state might face in the future.
This is unbelievable, but then's the Seattle Times.

David simplifies the irrationality beautifully:
So let me get this straight: fifty percent plus one is how democracy works, except when Democrats dominate the legislature, and if we believe in "representative democracy" we don’t want to bind the hands of future legislatures to a 60 percent supermajority, but we do want to bind the hands of the current legislature to a two-thirds one?
Out of curiosity, how do the folks at the Times reconcile their bold statements for SJR 4204 and against SJR 8206 with their feeble, pathetic endorsement of I-960?

Care to defend the double standard, Bruce? Lee? Lynne? Joni? Lance? Kate? Ryan? Jim? Carolyn? Robert? William? Frank? Any takers?

Would you please explain how you can be in favor of majority rule one minute and against it another minute?

Or how you can argue against an undemocratic prerequisite that amounts to "an unfairly high threshold for approval" one day, and then argue for the adoption of a similar (yet even more wide-ranging) prerequisite another day?

Or how you can support an initiative that amounts to a vote of no confidence in representative democracy in one endorsement, and then, a couple centimeters down the same page, philosophically oppose a "constitutional lock" because you believe we must have faith in representative democracy?!

The inconsistency is incomprehensible.

The premise of the editorial is the (flawed) conclusion that a wake-up is needed and I-960 is too gentle to cause much harm; therefore it deserves the support of the electorate. It's a stupid argument that disregards the facts, and as I just observed, completely contradicts the newspaper's reasoning in its other endorsements.

First, there's no need for a "wake-up". The Times itself notes that legislators haven't increased revenue on many occasions, and voters have recently rejected two right wing initiatives to repeal new or reinstated taxes, as well as dramatically expanding the Democratic majorities in the statehouse in last year's midterms, signaling their confidence in the Legislature's work.

Lawmakers have a responsibility to look after the common wealth. We elect representatives and senators to make decisions about investing in healthcare, transportation, and education. We have a deliberative legislative process that is open to public input. That's how our democracy works. As the Seattle Post-Intelligencer said when it endorsed NO on Initiative 960:
The system is never perfect; it's often fairly described as the worst around except for any of the alternatives. Representative government works best, though, when legislators feel a certain degree of confidence that they can, as they are elected to do, make decisions on the basis of their best judgment and study of what would be right for the state.
Second, there's nothing gentle about Initiative 960. It is explicitly designed to paralyze government, waste money, and clutter our ballots.

It is in violation of both the spirit and the letter of our state Constitution, and will likely be challenged in court a few days after the election if it passes.

The Times doesn't mention SJR 4204 (simple majority for public schools) in its I-960 endorsement. Of SJR 8206 (the rainy day fund), it says:
That measure amends the state constitution. It is a concrete dam. I-960 is an earthen dam, guaranteed for two years only. It will continue to work only if legislators don't erode it.
This paragraph doesn't make a shred of sense, and humorously, that's only logical, because trying to argue for and against something (in this case, majority rule) at the same time results in unintelligible gibberish.

How the Times editorial board managed this feat, I'll probably never understand.

It is bizarre that the Times would refuse to support a properly drafted, bipartisan constitutional amendment that puts aside money for emergencies (the rainy day fund), and defines the circumstances by which that money can be withdrawn.

The money saved under SJR 8206 can be tapped at any time by supermajority, and by simple majority during a crisis, whether that be a natural disaster or economic recession. The supermajority restriction, which is ordinarily in place, keeps the fund ready for use in real emergencies. SJR 8206 is an example of a reasonable, narrow, and warranted exception to majority rule.

Initiative 960, in contrast, may be proposed as statute, but it is really a constitutional amendment masquerading as an initiative.

It changes the meaning of the Constitution, just like SJR 4204 and SJR 8206, except it does so illegally.

The supreme law of our state defines all the instances where supermajorities are required for the Legislature to take action. On all other occasions, the Constitution says that majority rule will prevail. Adding or subtracting exceptions in the Constitution may only be done through amendment.

Respect for the state Constitution is not something that I-960's sponsors are concerned with or known for. Neither is integrity.

For almost ten years, Tim Eyman and his cohorts have done everything they can to undermine the people's trust in government, decimate the common wealth, and destroy the public services that enrich and protect our communities.

And despite his infamous reputation, the Seattle Times is saying, with its twin endorsements yesterday, that it trusts Tim Eyman, who has never run for public office and shuns accountability, more than it trusts our lawmakers.

Never mind that most of Eyman's recent proposals have been failures, and never mind that the public has recently vetted two of the Legislature's revenue bills: the increase in the gas tax and the restitution of the estate tax.

And maybe that is what this is all really about: the estate tax. Maybe this is Frank Blethen's way of pointing his middle finger at Olympia for having the courage to restore the tax after it was struck down in court, thereby preserving a progressive revenue source along with desperately needed education funding.

Of course, Frank and his allies had their chance to override the Legislature with Initiative 920, but perhaps Frank's still got the bitter taste of losing in his mouth, and views I-960 as a way to get even.

Newspapers across the state are endorsing NO on Initiative 960 because it's unclear, expensive, useless, and undemocratic. The Seattle Times endorsed yes because the people on its editorial board have no shame and no idea what they're talking about...their hatred of one policy has apparently corrupted their ability to reason.


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