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.