Ini­tia­tive prof­i­teer Tim Eyman got a taste of what it’s like to be inter­rupt­ed and heck­led tonight when he showed up in Seat­tle to speak at the sec­ond to last stop on Rod­ney Tom and Cur­tis King’s trans­porta­tion autumn “lis­ten­ing tour”, which has been trav­el­ing around the state since mid-September.

Eyman, who was also at the Everett stop a cou­ple of weeks ago, came pre­pared with a set of provoca­tive talk­ing points to recite. When his name was called late in the third hour, he got up from his seat and walked to the cen­ter aisle as whis­pers filled the sanc­tu­ary of the First Pres­by­ter­ian Church in Seattle.

“Did he just say Tim Eyman?” some­one near me asked. “Yep,” I replied. “Tim’s here, and when he speaks this room is going to get much noisier.”

And, sure enough, a few min­utes lat­er, Eyman stepped to the micro­phone, and the fun times began. Any­one who was snooz­ing in their seat was jolt­ed awake.

Tim Eyman testifies
Tim Eyman address­es law­mak­ers (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

“My name is, uh, Tim Eyman,” Eyman began. I think he then tried to say that he was from Muk­il­teo, but that got drowned out by the loud cho­rus of boos and jeers that imme­di­ate­ly filled the room. The Repub­li­cans up at the front of the room smiled weak­ly or looked grim. The Democ­rats seemed amused.

“You’re a joke!” yelled one audi­ence member.

Unde­terred, Eyman went on.

“The peo­ple attend­ing these meet­ings, includ­ing myself, are not a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of the tax­pay­ers of Wash­ing­ton,” Eyman said, instant­ly draw­ing anoth­er round of boos and jeers. “Nor­mal peo­ple are at home recov­er­ing from a long day at work, but their voic­es deserve to be heard too,” he added.

“We’re nor­mal peo­ple!” shout­ed sev­er­al indig­nant audi­ence mem­bers in a near simul­ta­ne­ous (but unco­or­di­nat­ed) reply. “I came here straight from work,” one young woman sit­ting near me said loudly.

Peo­ple in the room were offend­ed, and cer­tain­ly they had every right to be.

Were I not an activist who has been watch­dog­ging Tim Eyman and fight­ing his destruc­tive ini­tia­tives for over a decade, I would have been offend­ed too. I’d have resent­ed Eyman’s sneer­ing impli­ca­tion that I was not a “nor­mal” per­son because I had cho­sen to give up part of my evening to share my oppo­si­tion to Metro ser­vice cuts with the peo­ple charged with decid­ing what our laws and bud­get should be.

But I’ve heard Eyman give tes­ti­mo­ny so many times that I know what to expect. Con­de­scen­sion is part and par­cel of Eyman’s schtick. He can be dis­arm­ing in per­son, but when he’s got an audi­ence, he is con­sis­tent­ly rude and dis­re­spect­ful. It’s sad. He does­n’t care about being on top­ic; he only cares about stuff­ing as much dis­hon­est anti-gov­ern­ment pro­pa­gan­da as he can into two minutes.

As far as I’m con­cerned, nor­mal peo­ple are peo­ple who are civic-mind­ed and make an effort to vote, show up to jury duty, and par­tic­i­pate in pol­i­tics. Apa­thy or dis­in­ter­est in pub­lic affairs is not nor­mal or healthy in a democ­ra­cy —  it’s dangerous.

Eyman may not be nor­mal — after all, he’s a well paid pro­fes­sion­al politi­cian — but plen­ty of peo­ple who showed up at tonight’s hear­ing are reg­u­lar Wash­ing­to­ni­ans who claim to rep­re­sent nobody but them­selves. They spoke as cit­i­zens and activists, not lob­by­ists or polit­i­cal oper­a­tives. Unlike Eyman, they don’t get paid big bucks to pro­mote cyn­i­cal ini­tia­tives designed to wreck government.

Every per­son in this coun­try should be an activist. Activism is nor­mal. What is not nor­mal is pas­sivism. I used to be a pas­sivist, but then I saw the dam­age that Tim Eyman’s ini­tia­tives were doing to my com­mu­ni­ty, and I decid­ed I could not sit on the side­lines any longer. I became an activist. Eleven and a half years lat­er, I still am.

After insult­ing the oth­er peo­ple in the room, Eyman pro­ceed­ed to heap praise on Rod­ney Tom, Tim Shel­don, and the oth­er Sen­ate Repub­li­cans for not hav­ing vot­ed to raise rev­enue to fund vital trans­porta­tion improvements.

He then deployed one of his favorite catch­phras­es, also embla­zoned on his t‑shirt: Let the vot­ers decide. Eyman uses this one a lot because it is sim­ple and appeal­ing. What could be more demo­c­ra­t­ic than let­ting the vot­ers decide, after all? 

But Eyman is no pop­ulist. He’s a pre­tender. He mere­ly employs pop­ulist rhetoric to dis­guise his extreme, anti-gov­ern­ment views. Like his idol Grover Norquist, he is opposed to rais­ing or even recov­er­ing rev­enue under any cir­cum­stances. When law­mak­ers do put a levy or an infra­struc­ture fund­ing pack­age on the bal­lot, Eyman oppos­es it. If it affects him, he can be count­ed on to cam­paign against it.

In fact, I’m not aware of any instance where Tim Eyman has sup­port­ed a bal­lot mea­sure — let alone a bill in the Leg­is­la­ture — that would raise revenue.

(Tim, if I’m wrong on this, feel free to leave a com­ment and tell us which levy or levies you’ve vot­ed in favor of, or urged oth­ers to vote for).

So it is disin­gen­u­ous for Eyman to say Let the vot­ers decide, since he is not real­ly for let­ting the vot­ers decide. The only pub­lic votes that mat­ter to him are the pub­lic votes he can cite to but­tress his anti-gov­ern­ment talk­ing points.

What Eyman *is* for is destroy­ing our vital pub­lic ser­vices. Drown­ing gov­ern­ment in a bath­tub, in the infa­mous words of Grover Norquist.

That is why, over the span of a decade, he has spon­sored more than a dozen ini­tia­tives to slash tax­es or put bud­get­ing and rev­enue deci­sions in the hands of his anti-tax friends in the Leg­is­la­ture… even when they are not in the majority.

Most of these ini­tia­tives have been defeat­ed by vot­ers or struck down by the courts because they were uncon­sti­tu­tion­al. But again, Eyman does­n’t like to talk about his defeats. He only talks about the times when vot­ers have backed his posi­tion. He presents a very dis­tort­ed and warped view of past events. He did it again tonight when he recount­ed the fate of two of his ear­li­est initiatives.

In 1999, Ini­tia­tive 695 set car tabs at thir­ty dol­lars per year… it was over­whelm­ing­ly approved. Then-Gov­er­nor Gary Locke [lat­er] said thir­ty dol­lar license tabs are here to stay.

In 2002, Ini­tia­tive 776 again set car tabs at $30 a year, and it was over­whelm­ing­ly approved.

As usu­al, Eyman was fib­bing. Here is what real­ly hap­pened all those years ago.

In 1999, Tim Eyman spon­sored I‑695. I‑695 tried to do two things: repeal the statewide motor vehi­cle excise tax — which main­ly fund­ed roads, fer­ries, and tran­sit — and require that future increas­es in rev­enue be sub­ject to a pub­lic vote. I‑695 passed statewide, but not over­whelm­ing­ly. It failed in King County.

The next year, the courts struck down I‑695 as uncon­sti­tu­tion­al because it vio­lat­ed the sin­gle-sub­ject rule. The Leg­is­la­ture then unwise­ly decid­ed, at Gary Lock­e’s urg­ing, to repeal the MVET, which to this day remains a very cost­ly mistake.

How­ev­er, it left local MVETs in place at the local lev­el, which meant that most Wash­ing­to­ni­ans con­tin­ued to pay more than $30 in annu­al vehi­cle fees.

In 2002, Tim Eyman spon­sored I‑776, which he nick­named “Son of 695”. I‑776 sought to repeal those local motor vehi­cle excise tax­es that the Leg­is­la­ture had left in place. As of 2002, four coun­ties (King, Sno­homish, Pierce, and Dou­glas) col­lect­ed MVETs, along with Sound Tran­sit. Eyman’s pri­ma­ry goal with I‑776 was to rob Sound Tran­sit of one of its rev­enue sources, thus mak­ing it impos­si­ble for the agency to move for­ward with plans to build a region­al light rail system.

I‑776 was the first Eyman ini­tia­tive I was involved in fight­ing. Sad­ly, in Novem­ber 2002, I‑776 nar­row­ly passed statewide. How­ev­er, it failed in King Coun­ty and in Sound Tran­sit’s juris­dic­tion. The courts lat­er ruled that because Sound Tran­sit had pledged the rev­enue it was col­lect­ing from the MVET to bonds it had sold to finance light rail con­struc­tion, the MVET had to con­tin­ue to be col­lect­ed. And it was. Cen­tral Link broke ground in 2003 and opened to strong rid­er­ship six years later.

So, just to recap: Nei­ther of Tim Eyman’s “thir­ty dol­lar car tab” ini­tia­tives actu­al­ly set vehi­cle fees at thir­ty dol­lars across Wash­ing­ton. Nei­ther passed over­whelm­ing­ly. And nei­ther was approved in King Coun­ty, the locale of tonight’s trans­porta­tion lis­ten­ing tour, and the area rep­re­sent­ed by most of the law­mak­ers present.

Con­trary to what Eyman said, vehi­cle fees are not “radioac­tive”, nor is the motor vehi­cle excise tax a “cor­rupt tax”. Eyman made a name for him­self try­ing to repeal vehi­cle fees, so it’s no sur­prise that he is strong­ly opposed to the Leg­is­la­ture rein­stat­ing vehi­cle fees to pay for fer­ries, roads, and transit.

The old MVET cer­tain­ly had prob­lems, but it should have been reformed, not repealed. The loss of the rev­enue the MVET pro­vid­ed has left us in bad shape. If the 2000 Leg­is­la­ture had­n’t been so short­sight­ed, our needs now would not be so great. Vehi­cle fees should be raised as part of a new trans­porta­tion pack­age, so we’re not just rely­ing on an increase in the gas tax to pay for projects and services.

After Eyman’s time had expired, an irri­tat­ed Cur­tis King admon­ished the audi­ence for repeat­ed­ly inter­rupt­ing Eyman with boos and jeers. While I would agree that the audi­ence was­n’t respect­ful of Eyman’s time, they were only giv­ing Eyman a taste of what it’s like to be treat­ed rude­ly. Peo­ple are jus­ti­fi­ably sick and tired of Tim Eyman’s tox­ic pol­i­tics and his destruc­tive initiatives.

Peo­ple in King Coun­ty are espe­cial­ly fed up. King Coun­ty is a place where progress and pub­lic invest­ment is val­ued, and where inter­de­pen­dence is acknowl­edged and appre­ci­at­ed. We are all in this togeth­er. We can do more for our­selves when we pool our resources to get things done. That’s why near­ly every per­son tes­ti­fy­ing besides Tim Eyman urged law­mak­ers to go back to Olympia, ham­mer out a trans­porta­tion pack­age that is mul­ti­modal, not auto-cen­tric, and enact it into law.

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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9 replies on “Tim Eyman gets an earful in Seattle after stepping to the mic to recite his talking points”

  1. I don’t live in King coun­ty and I tru­ly don’t care what King Coun­ty does to pay for it’s traf­fic woes as long as you aren’t expect­ing the rest of the state to help pick up your tab. I would love to see the state of Wash­ing­ton move towards more toll roads like the east­ern states have. That way the peo­ple actu­al­ly using the roads are the peo­ple who are pay­ing for them.

  2. Dave Ger­main,
    King coun­ty gen­er­ates 46% of the rev­enue for the entire state, and receives 26% back in state spend­ing. If we were to cre­ate a traf­fic cor­ri­dor with Sno­homish and Pierce coun­ties, using rev­enue gen­er­at­ed in those areas only for those areas, we’d be much bet­ter off. Then it would actu­al­ly be the rest of the state that would need toll roads to fund their projects. You did­n’t men­tion which coun­ty you reside in, but there’s a bet­ter chance than not that you’re tak­ing in more state mon­ey then you’re gen­er­at­ing, so unless your a finan­cial masochist, it’s more like­ly more ben­e­fi­cial to you that things are the way they are.

  3. Jesse beat me to it. I would love for King Coun­ty even get a 10 per­cent increase of back of what it pays to the rest of the, most­ly red, State.

  4. How about a mod­est pro­pos­al that should sat­is­fy all of the com­menters here. A “Fair Share Road Ini­tia­tive” or King Coun­ty pays for it’s own, if you like. I’m not a lawyer, but we can find one to work out the wrin­kles for: Dis­pen­sa­tion of state trans­porta­tion projects shall be dis­trib­uted to coun­ty projects to match in cost with­in 5% of that coun­ty’s con­tri­bu­tion to trans­porta­tion rev­enue. Fed­er­al High­way fund­ing shall be dis­trib­uted to Inter­state High­ways accord­ing to need, and any addi­tion­al projects shall match the state model. 

    In oth­er words, the state dis­pers­es the trans­porta­tion projects to match each coun­ty’s trans­porta­tion funds out in via tax­es. If some­one in Kit­sap coun­ty thinks they’re pay­ing for a new tun­nel in Seat­tle… well this ini­tia­tive would end that pos­si­bil­i­ty. I mean, I have to assume talk radio and the media has been telling the good peo­ple in all these rur­al coun­ties that they’re pay­ing for King Coun­ty projects, since the sub­ject comes up so often when dis­cussing trans­porta­tion fund­ing. Let’s give us all the oppor­tu­ni­ty to end that. 

    I think we should start an ini­tia­tive. Let the peo­ple decide. 

    (Full dis­clo­sure: I cur­rent­ly live in Sno­homish Coun­ty, but have lived in King Coun­ty in the past.)

  5. I’ve vot­ed against more Eyman ini­tia­tives than I’ve vot­ed for, but he is a cit­i­zen — the vit­ri­ol of this arti­cle, and the audi­ence at the event it describes though deserves the con­dem­na­tion — FWIW, pret­ty much the same sort of imma­ture stuff that is being used against McGinn, on the oppo­site side of the polit­i­cal spectrum.

    The worst thing about this is that this not the behav­ior of 20 year olds, it is the behav­ior of group think baby boomers more and more of whom are retired — evi­dence, at least when it comes to cor­po­rate and pub­lic lead­er­ship of not just fail­ure, but abu­sive, irre­spon­si­ble corruption.

    As they say, do onto oth­ers as you would have done onto yourself.

    1. We’re all cit­i­zens, Dou­glas, and we all deserve civ­il discourse.

      Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Tim Eyman does­n’t believe in civ­il dis­course. Wish he did.

      This post is com­men­tary. The point of com­men­tary is to present an opin­ion or a posi­tion, as opposed to just report­ing facts, which is basi­cal­ly what objec­tive jour­nal­ism is (or is sup­posed to be). It’s tough on Eyman, but it isn’t vit­ri­olic. I observed in the post that the audi­ence was­n’t respect­ful of Eyman’s time. But Eyman is nev­er respect­ful of any­one else’s time, so he got what was com­ing to him. The boo­ing and cat­call­ing may have been imma­ture, but why should Eyman have been offend­ed by it? He’s con­sis­tent­ly rude and con­de­scend­ing. He should be able to take what he dish­es out. 

      Unlike most right wing media, we have a Code of Ethics and Com­ment­ing Guide­lines, which we abide by. We don’t believe in gut­ter pol­i­tics. But we also don’t believe in giv­ing peo­ple who would exploit the rest of us a free pass.

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