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

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

RE: Grassroots missing from this year’s initiatives — What about last year?

Near­ly one hun­dred years ago, pro­gres­sives suc­ceed­ed in amend­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion of Wash­ing­ton State to pro­vide for three pow­ers of direct democ­ra­cy: The ini­tia­tive, the ref­er­en­dum, and the recall.

The pur­pose of estab­lish­ing these three pow­ers was not to sup­plant or replace our repub­li­can form of gov­ern­ment, but rather, to give the peo­ple a way to get the gears of rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­ra­cy turn­ing in case they got stuck.

A cen­tu­ry lat­er, the reverse is hap­pen­ing. Cor­po­ra­tions and wealthy inter­ests are hijack­ing the ini­tia­tive process and using it to force votes on schemes that would pad their prof­its or advance their agen­da at the expense of the rest of us. And appar­ent­ly, the Seat­tle Times has only just noticed this.

I say this because the Blethens’ mouth­piece pub­lished a strange edi­to­r­i­al this morn­ing half­heart­ed­ly bemoan­ing the fact that the three ini­tia­tives like­ly to appear on this Novem­ber’s bal­lot were guar­an­teed place­ment thanks to the use of paid sig­na­ture gath­er­ers by the sponsors:

Busi­ness, labor or cot­tage-indus­try ini­tia­tive writ­ers are behind all three pro­pos­als. Con­sid­er, for exam­ple, the labor effort to boost train­ing and pay­ments for home-health-care work­ers, backed by the Ser­vice Employ­ees Inter­na­tion­al Union. Think, too, about, the Cost­co-backed mea­sure to get the state out of the liquor busi­ness or the anti-vari­able-tolling mea­sure, advo­cat­ed by Tim Eyman and heav­i­ly under­writ­ten by Belle­vue busi­ness­man Kem­per Freeman.

As Wash­ing­ton approach­es the 100th anniver­sary of its ini­tia­tive process in 2012, it is fair to say this year is no excep­tion. The process has been shift­ing from bot­tom-up gov­ern­ing to essen­tial­ly ini­tia­tives as part of big­ger lob­by­ing efforts.

The process has been shift­ing”? We’d say the shift took place a long time ago. Where has the Seat­tle Times been?

We’ve been point­ing out for years that Tim Eyman runs on big mon­ey, not small dol­lar dona­tions. Near­ly every sin­gle one of his ini­tia­tives has been under­writ­ten by a sin­gle wealthy guy or a cabal of cor­po­ra­tions, includ­ing last year’s Ini­tia­tive 1053. The top donor to I‑1053 was actu­al­ly BP, one of the greed­i­est and most irre­spon­si­ble cor­po­ra­tions on the plan­et. Oth­er major donors includ­ed Cono­coPhillips, Shell, Tesoro, JPMor­gan Chase, Bank of Amer­i­ca, and Wells Fargo.

I‑1053’s lack of grass­roots sup­port did­n’t both­er The Seat­tle Times. The Blethens and their edi­to­r­i­al writ­ers enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly endorsed Tim Eyman’s uncon­sti­tu­tion­al plan to sab­o­tage major­i­ty rule with­out dis­clos­ing to its read­ers who had paid for it. Nor did the Blethens reg­is­ter any con­cern about who had bought and paid for I‑1082 and I‑1100, two oth­er mea­sures we tar­get­ed as part of our Stop­Greed cam­paign. (The BIAW was behind I‑1082; Cost­co was behind I‑1100).

We can only con­clude, then, that cor­po­rate hijack­ing of the ini­tia­tive process real­ly does­n’t both­er them. If it did, it would fac­tor into their endorse­ment deci­sions, and they’d be using their edi­to­r­i­al page to advo­cate for ini­tia­tive process reform.

Telling­ly, the edi­to­r­i­al they pub­lished this morn­ing calls for no reform at all. It just ends by stat­ing the obvi­ous: The ini­tia­tive process has become a way for pow­er­ful inter­ests to force votes on laws they want passed.

The edi­to­r­i­al that they’ve pub­lished might best be described as the writ­ten ver­sion of a shrug. It lacks con­vic­tion and concern.

The author sug­gests that the demise of the cit­i­zen ini­tia­tive is a bad thing, but his or her response on behalf of the paper basi­cal­ly amounts to indifference.

What a weak com­men­tary on a seri­ous dilemma.

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