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

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Democracy cannot be used to abolish democracy: Making the case against I-1053

Taking center stage on this week's edition of Upfront with Robert Mak (KING5's long-running weekly public affairs program, which airs on Sundays) is Tim Eyman's Initiative 1053, the third incarnation of a scheme deliberately designed to ensnare our Legislature in California-style gridlock.

The program, which can be seen on KING tomorrow at 9:30 AM and 11:30 PM, features Senator Adam Kline and yours truly making the case against Tim Eyman.

We at NPI are not fans of how the traditional media typically portrays Eyman, but in this instance, I have to congratulate Robert Mak (the show's host) and Michael Cate, the producer, for doing a good job of asking Eyman tough questions, and then challenging his non-answers. Eyman excels at message discipline and won't deviate from his script unless he's thrown off-balance.

Here's a transcript of the meaty part of the segment:
VOICEOVER (Robert Mak): One of those lawmakers who voted to suspend the two-thirds rule [imposed by I-960] was Senator Adam Kline, a Seattle Democrat.

[Kline and Mak are shown sitting on a park bench]

ROBERT MAK: What's wrong with a two-thirds [requirement] to raise taxes? Shouldn't it be difficult for legislators to raise taxes?

SENATOR ADAM KLINE: Robert, you want to take a good look at the effect of this kind of stuff? Look at California. They have these kinds of restrictions on their legislative action. And they're gridlocked!

[Cut to street corner where Robert Mak and Tim Eyman are sitting at a table]

ROBERT MAK (to Tim Eyman): Don't we elect lawmakers to go to Olympia and make those tough decisions about raising taxes?

TIM EYMAN: Absolutely, we do. But we also have, in our Constitution, the right of the people to be able to say — with an initiative — here's the rules we have for you when it comes to raising taxes.

[Back to the park bench]

ROBERT MAK (to Adam Kline): Tim Eyman says, why do legislators think they know better than the people of Washington State?

SENATOR ADAM KLINE: I will answer that question when Tim has the courage — as someday he may — to start talking about the services that those taxes pay for.

[Cut to footage of Eyman delivering petitions to the Secretary of State's office]

VOICEOVER (Robert Mak): Kline says Initiative 1053 gives people a false choice: That they can choose higher or lower taxes without any consequences.

SENATOR ADAM KLINE: Especially after a certain snake oil salesman from Mukilteo has talked about taxes, taxes, taxes without ever daring — without ever having had the courage — to talk about the services that those taxes pay for.

VOICEOVER (Robert Mak): We asked Eyman for some specifics: How should lawmakers close a budget gap without raising taxes?

ROBERT MAK: I mean, would you kick people off the Basic Health Plan?

TIM EYMAN: Well, I think it would be up to legislators to decide what is a higher priority. Is it, uh, the Basic Health Plan? Is it criminal justice? Is it education? But they say everything is a priority down in Olympia.

ROBERT MAK: Well, if you were to point to some specific service that you would want them to cut back on, what would it be?

TIM EYMAN: Well, I think very clearly... They're never gonna to listen to us. They're not even listening to a person —

ROBERT MAK: But maybe the public would listen... what's...

TIM EYMAN: No, no!

ROBERT MAK: What's one service that you think... what's one area where you think they need to cut back?

TIM EYMAN: I think that what they need to do is adopt a lot of the recommendations that Brian Sonntag is finding from these performance audits.

[Cut to scene of State Auditor Brian Sonntag and Robert Mak standing on a sidewalk]

VOICEOVER (Robert Mak): So we went to State Auditor Brian Sonntag, and Sonntag says he has not found enough savings to keep the state from having to raise taxes... but that doesn't mean he couldn't.

BRIAN SONNTAG: You can save as much money as the state needs to save by eliminating programs and departments and functions. And not all of those decisions are pleasant ones. But some of them are gonna to have to be made.

[Camera pans over list of I-1053's top corporate donors]

VOICEOVER (Robert Mak): Kline it says it's worth looking at who's funding I-1053. A wide range of companies, from Wells Fargo to Tesoro... and BP.

SENATOR ADAM KLINE: We are taking away their tax loopholes. They know it. They see it coming. And they want to make sure we can't.

[Back to the street corner]

ROBERT MAK: Shouldn't voters be suspicious that banks and oil companies are behind this? That they just want to escape taxes in Washington State?

TIM EYMAN: The fact that we've moved beyond just regular supporters and also added enthusiastic supporters from the business community, I think, shows that our coalition is expanding.

[Cut to scene of yours truly being interviewed in a corridor]

ANDREW VILLENEUVE: The big thing that's wrong with 1053 is that it uses democracy to abolish democracy.

[Camera zooms in on page showing Article II, Section 22 of our State Constitution, with the words "majority of the members" highlighted in yellow]

VOICEOVER (Robert Mak): Democrats like Andrew Villeneuve attack 1053 from another direction. They say the state Constitution is pretty clear: Majority rules! And citizens can't arbitrarily impose a two thirds vote.

ANDREW VILLENEUVE: Why stop at two-thirds? What about three-fourths, or five-sixths, or seven-eighths?

[Cut to footage of workers sorting through initiative petitions]

VOICEOVER (Robert Mak): But so far, the courts have not thrown out the idea of two-thirds. And Eyman says if voters say yes again this year, lawmakers will have to restrain themselves for at least another two years.
Senator Kline is to be commended for repeatedly reminding reporters that Eyman never talks about the negative ramifications of his initiatives.

He doesn't even acknowledge that there are ramifications unless he's asked directly. And then, he passes the buck. He wants to slash and burn, move on, and do exactly the same thing the next year, all the while arrogantly suggesting that it's the job of the people elected to office to clean up after him.

(Author Thomas Frank, by the way, has a name for the Tim Eymans and Grover Norquists of America: He fittingly calls them the wrecking crew.)

That said, this initiative is not about taxes. It doesn't repeal any. It only concerns taxation indirectly. What this initiative is really about is launching us down a slippery slope towards oligarchy (or rule by the few) by taking away our cherished tradition of majority rule. Tim Eyman and his corporate backers want to destroy democracy so they can have their way.

Politics isn't a sport, but sometimes sports metaphors can help people clearly understand what the stakes are. Those of you reading who are sports fans: Imagine your favorite sport. Now imagine that this sport is midway through its season. Two teams are vying for control of a division title, which will determine who goes to the playoffs. One team is ahead, and has achieved the upper hand through teamwork, a can-do spirit, and the support of their fans.

They've won the admiration of many people across the league for their no-nonsense approach to winning, and their belief in a fair competition.

The other side, desperate to win, decides that its best chance of getting that division title is to convince the people who govern the league to change the rules in their favor, even though it's the middle of the season.

In other words, they want to cheat!

That's akin to what is going with Initiative 1053. Disgruntled conservatives want to make it easier for themselves to undemocratically block revenue-raising bills when they wouldn't ordinarily have the votes.

Initiative 1053 gives the vote of any legislator who is opposed to revenue increases more weight than a legislator who is in favor.

So much for one person, one vote.

We have seen at the federal level that right wing Republicans are only interested in governing democratically when they are in charge. And even when they are in charge, it's not enough that they have a majority of seats. They trample on minority rights in pursuit of their agenda, only to turn on a dime when they find themselves in the minority.

Then they became obstructionists. They can't even be relied upon to function as a loyal opposition, let alone be trusted to wield power responsibly.

The last time that the Republican Party controlled both houses of the Legislature and the governor's mansion in Washington, Tim Eyman was still in high school. It's frightening to think what would have happened — or what could still happen — to our common wealth if people sharing Eyman's ideological beliefs were in charge.

Evidently, Republicans and their corporate allies don't see themselves picking up enough seats to gain control of the statehouse this year, because they rescued Tim Eyman's signature drive from failure with more than half a million dollars in cash. I-1053 gives them the ability to override the Democratic majority on important fiscal votes, leaving cuts as the only alternative, instead of a balanced approach with new or restored revenue as part of the equation.

The last time lawmakers had to write a two year budget, they relied on federal stimulus money and the state's rainy day fund to patch the deficit. That's why the cuts weren't more devastating. They won't be able to do the same in 2011. If lawmakers can't strengthen our common wealth, then all they can do to close the deficit is cut public services.

And the results will not be pretty. Characterizing the consequences as catastrophic would probably be an understatement.

Our next Legislature will have the weighty responsibility of trying to figure out how to pay for the vital public services that the people of Washington State want and need without deficit spending. Eyman is deliberately trying to tie lawmakers' hands whilst sneering that the consequences are not his problem. That's wrong. We don't need California style-gridlock in our statehouse. On or before November 2nd, vote NO on Initiative 1053 and uphold our Constitution.


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