This Monday, as a sign of our commitment to continue opposing Tim Eyman and the big money behind his initiative factory into 2017 and beyond, we will be debuting a sleek new website for Permanent Defense, NPI’s oldest project, which for fourteen years has provided a first line of defense against threats to the Constitution and commonwealth of our beloved home state of Washington.
Codenamed Fidalgo, this ninth version of permanentdefense.org is the most polished, accessible, and responsive version of the site yet. It looks and functions much better on mobile devices than the current incarnation does. And it’s been designed to showcase beautiful photography from NPI’s growing library of images.
It seems fitting that Fidalgo’s launch bookends a spring of good news: University Link light rail opened ahead of schedule and under budget, Tim Eyman’s I‑1366 was struck down as unconstitutional by a unanimous Supreme Court, and Eyman failed to qualify anything for the 2016 ballot. Those are victories worth savoring and celebrating. But we’re also going to be laying the groundwork for the battles ahead, because we know that Tim Eyman is not going away.
Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat has a column on that very subject in tomorrow’s paper (it’s already up online). Westneat writes:
The story going around, in liberal circles anyway, is that Tim Eyman is having a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad year.
The gregarious initiative hustler just had yet another of his anti-tax measures torpedoed by the courts. He apparently is still under state investigation for allegedly running an initiative kickback scheme. And his anti-car-tax initiative for this fall never got off the ground.
“It appears the good people of Washington will once again be able to enjoy an Eyman-free election this autumn …” wrote Andrew Villeneuve, who runs an anti-Eyman group called Permanent Defense. “That’s a victory we will be celebrating all summer long.”
All of that is true — for now. But there’s something else going on with Eyman that has gotten almost no attention. He’s holding an ace in the hole that’s likely to make him a major player in the huge tax and spending fights on the horizon, perhaps for years to come.
Eyman’s got a billionaire.
Westneat goes on to explain that Eyman has hooked up with Kenneth Fisher, one of the richest men in the state (and the world, for that matter). Fisher is one of the wealthy benefactors who underwrote Initiative 1366, which appeared on last year’s ballot, along with Vancouver-based real estate developer Clyde Holland.
This isn’t news to us. During last year’s signature drive, we repeatedly discussed the big money behind Eyman’s I‑1366, concluding that it was certain to make the ballot. I pointed out in a May 2015 post here that Eyman has been able to stay in business precisely because he keeps reeling in whales like Fisher:
Having fought Tim Eyman for over thirteen years, we know he has a knack for convincing wealthy right wing donors to give him lots of money to underwrite destructive initiatives. He has created a very profitable business out of selling bad ideas.
The list of wealthy benefactors that have enabled Eyman to get on the ballot year after year is now pretty long. It includes deceased helicopter titan Wes Lematta, deceased investment banker Michael Dunmire, Bellevue Square developer Kemper Freeman, Jr., oil giants like BP, Tesoro, and ConocoPhillips, the Association of Washington Business, gambling conglomerates like Great Canadian Gaming, Fremont’s Suzie Burke, and North Seattle’s Faye Garneau.
Considering Eyman’s track record, and considering that Eyman successfully convinced Holland and Fisher to dump lots of money into an initiative that was blatantly unconstitutional, we figured Eyman would have the money to buy his way onto the 2016 ballot. Eyman even reported $1.2 million in loans from himself and his benefactors to one of his committees at the end of last year. Then, a few weeks into 2016, he announced he plan to qualify a second initiative to the 2016 ballot.
In the months that followed, though, Eyman failed to launch a paid signature drive for either initiative. Instead, with money from Holland and Fisher, he launched an illegal independent expenditure against the majority of the state’s Democratic legislators. Eyman’s obsession with “unelecting” Democrats became the focus of his emails to his followers for several consecutive weeks. It became apparent that the initiatives Eyman was claiming to be working on weren’t going anywhere.
It seems that Holland and Fisher weren’t on board with Eyman’s original plans for 2016. Had they been, Eyman would no doubt have launched a signature drive months ago, which would be in its final few weeks right now.
Eyman’s failure to make the ballot in 2016 is an unexpected victory. It is worth celebrating, because it unfortunately doesn’t happen very often.
But we agree with Westneat: it doesn’t mean Eyman is out of business.
We’re students of history at NPI, and history has shown that Eyman is a relentless rebounder. Persistence is his mantra. Past Eyman-free years (2003, 2006, 2014) have been temporary dry spells for his initiative factory. We are operating under the assumption that Eyman’s benefactors have given him the green light for I‑869 and that it will be appearing on the November 2017 ballot.
We’re not going to waste valuable time waiting to see what happens — as soon as we have confirmation that Eyman is actually doing a signature drive for I‑869, we will begin working with our allies to organize opposition, so there is a credible NO campaign in place to defeat it and protect our investments in badly-needed infrastructure like Link light rail, Amtrak Cascades, and bike paths.
(Speaking of bike paths… Eyman ought to have a newfound appreciation for the need for safe corridors for bicyclists, given that he recently got into a nasty bicycle accident and broke his shoulder. Sadly, with I‑869, he’s decided to redouble his efforts to eviscerate funding for projects that would make it easier and safer for all of us to get around by bicycle. It once again shows that he doesn’t believe in the American tradition of communities pooling resources to get things done.)
While we’re doing all of that, we’re also teaming up with fellow progressives to go on offense. NPI belongs to the coalitions working to qualify Initiative 1433 and Initiative 1491 to the November ballot. I‑1433 would increase the minimum wage and provide paid sick leave to workers across Washington. To borrow a figure of speech from Eyman, we think it has the potential to be wildly popular.
I‑1491, meanwhile, will make our neighborhoods safer by allowing judges to issue extreme risk protection orders temporarily barring individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others from buying firearms. This initiative is based on legislation that previously failed to make it out of the statehouse. It is an excellent follow-up to universal background checks on gun sales, which voters passed in 2014.
We also support passage of WAmend’s I‑735, which would put Washington on record as calling for an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to declare that corporations are not people and money is not speech.
And we are committed to working with our elected representatives to reform our tax code and our initiative process. A lack of progress in each of these areas has helped keep Eyman relevant over the years. As I’ve said before, progressive tax reform is Eyman’s worst nightmare. Eyman wants the tax code to stay broken and regressive so there will always be an appetite for his initiatives.
The key to making Eyman less relevant and minimizing the harm that he and his wealthy benefactors can cause over the long term is to go on offense and to actually address the conditions that he is exploiting. That is what this organization, the Northwest Progressive Institute, was founded to work on.
Going on offense is a lot easier when defense isn’t neglected. Tim Eyman’s initiative factory is a grave threat to Washington’s future. It needs and deserves year-round opposition. NPI’s Permanent Defense provides that opposition.
And remember to join us virtually on Monday morning as we unveil Permanent Defense’s sleek new website to the world!