NPI's Cascadia Advocate

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

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

From opposition to proposition: NPI is working to make the defeat of Tim Eyman’s initiative factory a beginning — not an end

Edi­tor’s Note: This month and this week, NPI is cel­e­brat­ing its tenth anniver­sary. This is the inau­gur­al post in a sev­en-part series reflect­ing on NPI’s first decade. Each install­ment will be penned by one of NPI’s board mem­bers. 

As I reflect on NPI’s tenth anniver­sary, I find myself think­ing back to where we were as a nation, as a state, and as a soci­ety in 2003.

Ten years ago, I had just moved to Wash­ing­ton to begin a PhD pro­gram in his­to­ry at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton. I was pay­ing close atten­tion to nation­al pol­i­tics, and in 2003 became active in the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of Howard Dean.

At the time, fight­ing back against the con­ser­v­a­tive agen­da being imple­ment­ed by Pres­i­dent George W. Bush seemed the high­est pri­or­i­ty, and the first pro­gres­sive pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of the new cen­tu­ry was the place to begin. Many pro­gres­sives across the coun­try still count the Dean cam­paign as their entry to polit­i­cal activism.

I was also try­ing to get a han­dle on the pol­i­tics of a new state, a state I was unfa­mil­iar with. One of the only things I knew was that Wash­ing­ton was under siege by a right-wing anti-gov­ern­ment zealot named Tim Eyman, who had spon­sored a series of uncon­sti­tu­tion­al, unsound ini­tia­tives pur­pose­ful­ly writ­ten to destroy pub­lic ser­vices by gut­ting their rev­enue sources.

Com­ing from Cal­i­for­nia (the home of Howard Jarvis), it was a sto­ry I knew well. Eyman was work­ing to defund the pub­lic insti­tu­tions and ser­vices that helped fam­i­lies pros­per in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, and was hav­ing a lot of suc­cess.

It also did not appear that many peo­ple were fight­ing back. Eyman’s ini­tial vic­to­ries at the bal­lot caused Democ­rats like Gov­er­nor Gary Locke to become reac­tive and look for ways to appease a sup­pos­ed­ly anti-tax elec­torate.

As pro­gres­sives began work­ing to build infra­struc­ture across the coun­try to stop the Bush agen­da, it was clear that a sim­i­lar need exist­ed in Wash­ing­ton to not only stop the Eyman agen­da, but to make a clear and full-throat­ed defense of Wash­ing­ton’s long­stand­ing pro­gres­sive val­ues.

Some­one was already work­ing to build that infra­struc­ture. His name was Andrew Vil­leneuve, and across the lake in Red­mond, he had seen the same need for pro­gres­sive lead­er­ship, start­ing with fight­ing Tim Eyman. Rather than wait for some­one else to take the lead, Andrew stepped up and did it him­self.

I first got to know Andrew in 2005, after he had already start­ed NPI. I was impressed that at a young age he had already begun build­ing the online infra­struc­ture need­ed to link pro­gres­sives across Wash­ing­ton and the Pacif­ic North­west, while also stand­ing up ear­ly and often to Tim Eyman.

Before long it became clear that the state final­ly had some­one will­ing to fight Eyman and push back against his anti-gov­ern­ment agen­da.

I watched as NPI became a leader in the fight against Eyman and for pro­gres­sive val­ues. NPI kept tabs on Eyman’s fundrais­ing and his ini­tia­tive fac­to­ry, get­ting impor­tant infor­ma­tion out at an ear­ly stage to insti­tu­tions and activists so they could be pre­pared to fight back against Eyman’s lat­est scheme.

In the eleven and a half years since NPI and NPI’s Per­ma­nent Defense have been active oppos­ing Eyman, Eyman has not had any con­sec­u­tive vic­to­ries. Before 2002, he was win­ning at the bal­lot every year. But, since 2002, vot­ers have reject­ed half of the ini­tia­tives he has got­ten on the bal­lot (I‑892, I‑985, I‑1033, I‑1125).

NPI played a role in help­ing defeat all of those mea­sures, as well as stop­ping John Carl­son and Kir­by Wilbur’s I‑912 in 2005.

The effort to safe­guard Wash­ing­ton from Tim Eyman’s ini­tia­tive fac­to­ry con­tin­ues, and NPI remains at the fore­front. Yet from an ear­ly stage it was clear to me that Andrew intend­ed NPI to do more. Fight­ing Eyman was a nec­es­sary defen­sive move.

But to rebuild pro­gres­sive insti­tu­tions, poli­cies, and val­ues we need­ed an insti­tu­tion will­ing to help build a move­ment, to train and con­nect activists, and to pro­vide mes­sage lead­er­ship to those who were will­ing to lis­ten.

NPI has tak­en on that role as well, in the North­west as well as across the coun­try. NPI has con­vened state and local polit­i­cal blog­gers at Net­roots Nation con­ven­tions in recent years, pro­vid­ing a forum for writ­ers to share knowl­edge, skills, and ideas.

These gath­er­ings have also helped pro­vide impor­tant cohe­sion for net­roots activists, espe­cial­ly as the Tea Par­ty began to seize pow­er in state after state begin­ning in 2009. Back at home, NPI has improved Pacif­ic NW Por­tal, which serves as a cen­tral hub for pro­gres­sive blog­gers and writ­ers, giv­ing cru­cial expo­sure to impor­tant peo­ple and issues that might oth­er­wise have been lost.

NPI’s annu­al events, includ­ing our pop­u­lar Spring Fundrais­ing Gala, are great oppor­tu­ni­ties for pro­gres­sives to con­nect and be inspired.

In 2007, I left for Cal­i­for­nia just as NPI was tak­ing off. When I returned to Wash­ing­ton in 2011, I began to focus on state and local polit­i­cal issues, and found that NPI had become an estab­lished, respect­ed orga­ni­za­tion sup­port­ed by lead­ers and activists across the region. I was hon­ored to be asked by Andrew to serve on NPI’s board, and help build the orga­ni­za­tion for the future.

As we look to the next ten years, it is clear that NPI and its mis­sion are more impor­tant than ever before. Right-wing extrem­ists have their eye on Wash­ing­ton and are work­ing hard to bring to this state the same rad­i­cal agen­da they have brought to states like Wis­con­sin, Texas, and North Car­oli­na.

Tra­di­tion­al media out­lets are becom­ing more right-wing in their cov­er­age, and despite Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma’s two his­toric elec­tion vic­to­ries, pro­gres­sive caus­es and can­di­dates in the North­west still face chal­lenges.

Most Wash­ing­to­ni­ans want pub­lic pol­i­cy to reflect our cher­ished and long-held pro­gres­sive val­ues . But that won’t hap­pen if there are not orga­ni­za­tions in place to orga­nize and mobi­lize peo­ple around those val­ues, and teach activists how to reframe and use their time, tal­ent, and trea­sure effec­tive­ly.

Since 2003, we at NPI have shown that it’s pos­si­ble to build an agile pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tion that is inno­v­a­tive and focused on the long term while also fight­ing impor­tant short term bat­tles against the likes of Tim Eyman.

In its next ten years, NPI will show how we can go, in the words of Van Jones, “from oppo­si­tion to propo­si­tion”… set­ting an agen­da that can help renew pro­gres­sive val­ues and pol­i­cy direc­tions in the Pacif­ic North­west.

It is an excit­ing time to be a part of NPI. But the best is yet to come.

Robert Cruick­shank has served as a mem­ber of NPI’s Board of Direc­tors since March 2011. He works for Seat­tle May­or Mike McGinn as a Senior Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Advi­sor.

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