Though it’s not apparent from looking at Voters Want More Choices’ most recent reports to the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), NPI can today confirm what we have suspected since the beginning of the month: Tim Eyman has found a new wealthy benefactor to put up the money for his latest scheme, Initiative 1125, which he announced he was running only eighteen days ago.
We won’t know who is bankrolling I-1125 until June 10th at the earliest (which is when Eyman is required to file his May reports).
But we do know the money spigot has been turned on and that it’s being used to deploy mercenary petitioners across Washington State.
Yesterday, we received multiple reports from activists who had sighted signature gatherers operating at big box store, including Wal-Mart. One activist told us that petitions for multiple measures were being carried.
And this morning, I found myself being asked to sign Tim Eyman’s I-1125 on my way to class as I walked through campus. Pretty ironic, huh?
It seems that two mercenaries decided that a good place to collect signatures would be at the heart of the main campus at Bellevue College, which has been negatively impacted by past Tim Eyman initiatives and stands to lose even more if Eyman’s undemocratic I-1053 remains in effect.
With an annual student population of 38,000, Bellevue College is the second largest public institution of higher learning in the state, behind the UW and ahead of WSU.
Most of its programs are two-year, owing to the fact that it began as a community college, but it now offers some four-year programs as well.
Tuition at BC is reasonably low, especially compared to private colleges, thanks to Washington’s common wealth. And there are many options for taking classes – courses are offered online, in the evening, in hybrid mode (online + in the classroom), and at a satellite campus. There are also “late start” classes to accommodate students who have conflicts at the beginning of a quarter.
These are two key reasons why BC is so popular. But BC may have to raise tuition and cut class offerings if Initiative 1053 is not soon repealed or stricken as unconstitutional. It is no exaggeration to say that success for Tim Eyman means hardship for Bellevue College and its students.
That’s why it was so discomforting to see mercenary petitioners hawking Tim Eyman’s latest scheme this morning, less than a stone’s throw from my classroom. My fellow students and I stand more to lose from Tim Eyman’s harmful measures than pretty much any other group of Washingtonians.
And yet, here were these two guys, standing in front of our student union building, trying to pull Bellevue College students and faculty aside and get them to sign another destructive Tim Eyman initiative.
I declined to sign, but I stuck around to witness the petitioners in action, and take pictures. I explained that I’d be filing a post about the effort to get I-1125 on the ballot. One of them invited me to take closeup photos of him collecting signatures… and so I did.
As I watched, the petitioners corralled anyone who crossed their path who answered “yes” to the question, “Are you registered to vote?” (sometimes, “… in Washington”?). Then, they’d pitch I-1125.
Here’s an example of what the petitioner would say (this particular encounter was with a middle-aged voter):
Petitioner: “They’re taking our toll money and they’re spending it… [putting it] in the general fund. We would like that money to be spent on the roads. We’d like that tollbooth money to be spent on the roads the way that they told us it was for when they set up the tolls, right? Now, years down the line, they’re taking money out of it, and now they’re using that to raise the gas tax.”
“Who’s behind it?” asked the voter, scanning the petition.
“I don’t know who’s all behind the issue,” the petitioner lied. “I don’t know who…”
At that point, I interrupted and quietly pointed out that Tim Eyman is the sponsor of I-1125. (I didn’t say anything else because I wanted to see what he’d say next).
“Eyman’s usually behind the tax issues,” the petitioner immediately agreed. “But I can’t say for sure. I haven’t been told, yes or no, by my superiors. So I don’t know. I… I can’t lie to you, you know what I mean?” the petitioner said.
“I can’t sign it unless I know more about it,” the voter insisted.
“Oh, that’s fine. This will just put it on the ballot, you know what I mean?” replied the petitioner, countering smoothly. “You can vote however you’d like on it.”
“I have to study stuff,” the voter insisted. And then, like an informed citizen and an intelligent person, he turned and walked away.
If more Washingtonians simply exercised the good judgment that this voter did, mercenary petitioners wouldn’t be able to rapidly fill up petition sheets with signatures. Unfortunately, for every voter who refuses to put down their name and address, there are a dozen who will succumb to the pressure and take a few moments to sign a measure that they haven’t scrutinized – let alone read.
These petitioners couldn’t care less whether they are accurately representing what the measures would do. Reread the initial sales pitch from the conversation I quoted above. The petitioner is spouting nonsense.
What toll money is he talking about? At present, the Department of Transportation collects tolls only on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and for solo drivers who use the high occupancy vehicle lanes on State Route 167. That’s it. We don’t have a regionwide congestion pricing system. We don’t have any turnpikes, either.
Yes, tolls have been proposed for SR-520, I-90, and SR 99. But they’re not being collected yet. How is it possible for the government to misuse nonexistent “tollbooth money”, as the petitioner alleged?
He was also wrong to suggest that “they” (presumably “they” means the Legislature) are raising the gas tax. The tolls the Legislature has authorized are a completely different funding mechanism which isn’t connected to the gas tax.
Gas taxes are paid whenever a motorist fills up his or her car with fuel at the gas station. Tolls, on the other hand, are a surcharge paid for use of a roadway or facility. They are more common on the east coast, but they’ve been used here in the past too, usually to pay for bridges.
All motorists who drive conventional automobiles pay the gas tax, but only motorists who make use of a tolled facility pay a toll. In the case of SR 520, the reason the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge is being tolled again is so that the state can afford the replacement bridge it is starting to build. The toll money is going to be used for the new bridge. It won’t be used for other purposes.
Notice how this petitioner didn’t bother to present any specifics to back up his claims. He just rambled on with one casually-stated baseless accusation after another, trying to con the skeptical voter in front of him into signing I-1125.
And then, when he was asked who the sponsor was, he wouldn’t answer. He pretended to be ignorant. I had to interrupt and tell the voter what he wanted to know. And even then, after the truth had been revealed, this petitioner continued to lie, in the hopes of getting a signature.
I say lie because I had asked the petitioner, minutes earlier, how to get in touch with the people behind the measure – when nobody else was in the immediate vicinity and he wasn’t distracted. He flipped the petition over and showed me the contact information at the bottom, identifying Voters Want More Choices as the people responsible. So I knew he was fibbing when he was talking to this voter.
(Also, when a salesman utters a phrase like, “I can’t lie to you, you know?”, it’s a dead giveaway that the salesman is, in fact, lying… and he or she knows it).
I suspect what I saw is very typical of an extended exchange. People who are skeptical scan what’s on the clipboard, ask questions… and get lied to.
This is precisely why we track right wing signature drives.
Tim Eyman sympathizers have angrily accused us in the past of trying to intimidate signature gatherers, which is ironic, because what we’re trying to do is hold people accountable who are trying to do just that to voters. We are not seeking to emulate their shifty behavior. We’re trying to put a spotlight on it.
Tim Eyman and his followers forget that the First Amendment is for everybody, not just them. They certainly have the freedom to petition our government for a redress of grievances (legitimate or not).
As progressives, we have the same freedom, and we also have freedom of speech, meaning we can ask people not to sign right wing initiatives.
Readers, if you’ve run into a petitioner hawking I-1125 or another right wing initiative, please tell us about your encounter using Permanent Defense’s reporting tool. Your feedback will help us document what petitioners are doing and telling voters, so we have a better idea of how to organize and mobilize against threats to our common wealth and quality of life.