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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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