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.

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

Washington voters want revenue bills decided by a simple majority vote, NPI research finds

Over the course of the past twen­ty-five years, right wing Repub­li­cans in Wash­ing­ton have been on a mis­sion to sab­o­tage the major­i­ty vote clause of our state’s Con­sti­tu­tion. Through a series of statewide ini­tia­tives spon­sored by Lin­da Smith and Tim Eyman, they’ve repeat­ed­ly attempt­ed to grant them­selves the pow­er to block any bill that would raise rev­enue to fund essen­tial pub­lic services.

Since its found­ing in Feb­ru­ary of 2002, NPI’s Per­ma­nent Defense has been fight­ing non­stop along­side lead­ers like Sen­a­tors Reuven Car­lyle and David Frockt to defeat these destruc­tive ini­tia­tives and uphold Arti­cle II, Sec­tion 22 of our Con­sti­tu­tion, which says that bills in Wash­ing­ton’s Leg­is­la­ture shall pass by a major­i­ty vote.

We’ve had a lot more suc­cess in the courts than in the court of pub­lic opin­ion. In 2013, the Wash­ing­ton Supreme Court final­ly struck down as uncon­sti­tu­tion­al the statu­to­ry require­ment imposed by Smith’s I‑601 and Eyman’s I‑960/I‑1053/I‑1185 that any rev­enue bill receive a two-thirds vote in order to pass. The Court held that the words major­i­ty vote in Arti­cle II, Sec­tion 22 meant just that — a major­i­ty vote.

Two years lat­er, Eyman respond­ed to that deci­sion by spon­sor­ing I‑1366, which nar­row­ly passed with the sup­port of just 19% of Wash­ing­ton’s reg­is­tered voters.

I‑1366 threat­ened to elim­i­nate $8 bil­lion in fund­ing for schools and vital pub­lic ser­vices over six years if the Leg­is­la­ture did not pass an amend­ment sab­o­tag­ing Arti­cle II, Sec­tion 22 by April 15th, 2016. Thank­ful­ly, I‑1366 was nev­er imple­ment­ed; it was struck down as uncon­sti­tu­tion­al in Jan­u­ary, and that judg­ment was affirmed by a unan­i­mous Supreme Court last month.

I‑1366 is now in Wash­ing­ton’s polit­i­cal grave­yard, where it belongs. But the right wing is still bent on sab­o­tag­ing our Con­sti­tu­tion. Tim Eyman and his friends at the Wash­ing­ton Pol­i­cy Cen­ter want to give right wing Repub­li­cans in the Leg­is­la­ture per­ma­nent veto pow­er over any rev­enue bill.

Eyman and the Wash­ing­ton Pol­i­cy Cen­ter claim that the peo­ple are on their side. They cite the the pas­sage of Ini­tia­tives 601, 960, 1053, and 1185, along with polling they’ve com­mis­sioned, as evi­dence that the pub­lic wants to amend the Con­sti­tu­tion to require that rev­enue bills pass with a two-thirds vote.

Effec­tive­ly, that would mean that right wing Repub­li­cans would be dic­tat­ing Wash­ing­ton’s fis­cal pol­i­cy no mat­ter what — for when a two-thirds vote is required to do some­thing, it puts just over one-third in con­trol of the outcome.

This pic­togram illus­trates what I’m talk­ing about (click to enlarge):

Pictogram: Don't mess with our Constitution

Don’t mess with our Constitution

“Washington’s con­sti­tu­tion makes it very clear the peo­ple are the sov­er­eigns of the state and not sub­jects of the polit­i­cal class. The real ques­tion is whether law­mak­ers will final­ly rep­re­sent the will of the peo­ple or instead con­tin­ue to ignore the clear and con­sis­tent mes­sage from those they are sup­posed to rep­re­sent,” opined the Wash­ing­ton Pol­i­cy Cen­ter’s Jason Merci­er last Novem­ber.

Eyman and Mercier’s asser­tion that the pub­lic is with them has large­ly gone unchal­lenged for years. But no longer.

Today, we are delight­ed to share new research that shows that a large major­i­ty of Wash­ing­ton vot­ers agree with us that a sim­ple, fifty per­cent major­i­ty vote should decide the fate of all rev­enue bills in our state House and Senate.

We asked like­ly Novem­ber 2016 vot­ers in Wash­ing­ton the fol­low­ing question:

Do you strong­ly agree, some­what agree, some­what dis­agree or strong­ly dis­agree with the fol­low­ing state­ment: all rev­enue bills and bud­gets in the Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture should be decid­ed by a sim­ple fifty per­cent major­i­ty vote?

679 like­ly vot­ers in Wash­ing­ton State respond­ed to our sur­vey, which was in the field from June 14th-15th, 2016. All respon­dents par­tic­i­pat­ed via land­line. The poll has a mar­gin of error of +/- 3.8% at the 95% con­fi­dence level.

These were the answers we received to the ques­tion above:

  • Agree: 59%
    • 36% “strong­ly agree”
    • 23% “some­what agree”
  • Dis­agree: 34%
    • 17% “some­what disagree”
    • 17% “strong­ly disagree”
  • 6% answered “not sure” 

Near­ly three-fifths of the vot­ers we sur­veyed agreed that all rev­enue bills and bud­gets in the Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture should be decid­ed by a sim­ple major­i­ty vote. Con­trast these answers with the out­comes of Ini­tia­tives 601, 960, 1053, 1185, and the polling done by the oth­er side. This impor­tant find­ing is a tes­ta­ment to the old adage the answers you get depend on the ques­tions you ask.

How a ques­tion is framed to the pub­lic is huge­ly con­se­quen­tial. For years, the right wing has been ask­ing vot­ers, Do you think it should take a two-thirds vote of the Leg­is­la­ture to raise tax­es? while also relent­less­ly pro­mot­ing a two-thirds vote for tax­es as a wor­thy idea and a “good gov­ern­ment” reform.

Wash­ing­ton’s pro­gres­sive move­ment has not respond­ed effec­tive­ly to this long-run­ning cam­paign in the court of pub­lic opin­ion — or, in some cas­es, at all. We’ve either lost by a lit­tle or a lot depend­ing on the effort we’ve put in.

In years where we have col­lec­tive­ly both­ered to try orga­niz­ing prop­er NO cam­paigns, we’ve lost by close mar­gins (as was the case in 1993 and 2007). When we’ve neglect­ed to do the ear­ly work required to build a cred­i­ble, mean­ing­ful NO cam­paign, we’ve suf­fered blowout loss­es (as was the case in 2010 and 2012).

We can be grate­ful that our courts have repeat­ed­ly stepped in to uphold our Con­sti­tu­tion and safe­guard our cher­ished tra­di­tion of major­i­ty rule.

But it’s time we start­ed win­ning in the court of pub­lic opin­ion as well as the courts. We’ve been los­ing because we keep allow­ing the right wing to frame this debate on their terms. When we let them frame the ques­tions, we lose. It is that simple.

It’s as though Eyman, Merci­er, and Co. have been con­tin­u­al­ly chal­leng­ing us to a wager on a rigged coin flip (heads they win, tails we lose). And, like obliv­i­ous char­ac­ters in a James Bond movie sit­ting across the card or backgam­mon table from the cheat­ing vil­lain, we keep play­ing their game — and losing.

No more.

We should­n’t be con­tin­u­al­ly hav­ing to explain why requir­ing a two-thirds vote to raise rev­enue is a bad idea. Instead, we should be explain­ing why requir­ing a major­i­ty vote for all leg­is­la­tion is a good idea.

We win when we go on offense. The last time we gave Wash­ing­ton vot­ers the oppor­tu­ni­ty to vote for a sim­ple major­i­ty thresh­old for rev­enue, the vot­ers said yes. The year was 2007, and the Leg­is­la­ture at the time had Demo­c­ra­t­ic super­ma­jori­ties in both hous­es. Over vehe­ment oppo­si­tion from the likes of Repub­li­cans such as Ed Orcutt, Democ­rats suc­ceed­ed in pass­ing a con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment to low­er the bar for pas­sage of school levies from three-fifths to a sim­ple major­i­ty.

In accor­dance with Arti­cle XXIII of the Con­sti­tu­tion, it took a two-thirds vote to pass the amend­ment out of the Leg­is­la­ture and send it to the vot­ers for con­sid­er­a­tion. (Because the Con­sti­tu­tion is our plan of gov­ern­ment, it requires minor­i­ty con­sent to amend. That way, its care­ful­ly-craft­ed pro­vi­sions, which bal­ance major­i­ty rule and minor­i­ty rights can’t be changed on a whim.)

The amend­ment, HJR 4204, appeared on the Novem­ber 2007 bal­lot along­side I‑960, the first of Eyman’s I‑601 clones.

Remark­ably, as I’ve pre­vi­ous­ly not­ed here on the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate, both mea­sures passed. Giv­en that the affir­ma­tive vote for each mea­sure was a major­i­ty, it’s like­ly that there were at least some vot­ers who vot­ed yes on each.

What this shows us is that not only does the will of the vot­ers change from elec­tion to elec­tion, but fre­quent­ly the vot­ers con­tra­dict them­selves with­in the con­fines of the same elec­tion. Vot­ers have passed Tim Eyman ini­tia­tives while at the same time  elect­ing lead­ers fierce­ly opposed to those very same ini­tia­tives, for example.

The research above sug­gests that if pro­gres­sives qual­i­fied an ini­tia­tive to the bal­lot to clean up the Revised Code of Wash­ing­ton and remove the now unen­force­able lan­guage say­ing a two-thirds vote is required to pass any rev­enue bill, replac­ing it with lan­guage affirm­ing that a sim­ple fifty per­cent major­i­ty vote is suf­fi­cient to pass rev­enue bills like the Con­sti­tu­tion says, that ini­tia­tive would pass.

Tim Eyman and the Wash­ing­ton Pol­i­cy Cen­ter tried very hard in the wake of the pas­sage of I‑1366 to intim­i­date Demo­c­ra­t­ic law­mak­ers into sub­mis­sion and get the amend­ment that they want­ed. At the same time, we encour­aged House and Democ­rats to hold firm and defend our Con­sti­tu­tion. And they did.

In an amaz­ing dis­play of Demo­c­ra­t­ic uni­ty, not a sin­gle Demo­c­ra­t­ic law­mak­er capit­u­lat­ed to Eyman and the right wing. Not a sin­gle one.

Our Founders would be proud of them.

In the sum­mer of 1889, when our Founders draft­ed our Con­sti­tu­tion, they debat­ed what the thresh­old for pas­sage of leg­is­la­tion should be. They decid­ed to require an absolute sim­ple major­i­ty vote of each house to pass bills. That means greater than fifty per­cent — no more, and no less. Any oth­er stan­dard would mean that a few would be in con­trol of the out­come, instead of the many.

The plan of gov­ern­ment they gave us has stood the test of time. Sad­ly, the pow­er-hun­gry right wing in our state wants to sab­o­tage our Con­sti­tu­tion for their own gain. They’ve done an awful­ly good job con­vinc­ing the press that the peo­ple are on their side and want a two-thirds vote to deter­mine the fate of rev­enue leg­is­la­tion. But we’ve just proved that’s not the case. Our new research shows that when you ask a very dif­fer­ent ques­tion, you get a very dif­fer­ent answer.

I want to point out that we could have put a lead­ing ques­tion into our poll, like the Wash­ing­ton Pol­i­cy Cen­ter did in theirs last autumn, to increase the like­li­hood of get­ting a favor­able answer. We chose not to do this. We could have authored a ques­tion that referred to the Con­sti­tu­tion, per­haps some­thing like this:

Do you strong­ly agree, some­what agree, some­what dis­agree or strong­ly dis­agree with the fol­low­ing state­ment: the Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture should abide by Arti­cle II, Sec­tion 22 of our state Con­sti­tu­tion and pass all rev­enue bills and bud­gets with a sim­ple fifty per­cent major­i­ty vote?

But we made no ref­er­ence to the Con­sti­tu­tion at all. Instead, we asked:

Do you strong­ly agree, some­what agree, some­what dis­agree or strong­ly dis­agree with the fol­low­ing state­ment: all rev­enue bills and bud­gets in the Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture should be decid­ed by a sim­ple fifty per­cent major­i­ty vote?

And we found that 36% strong­ly agreed with this state­ment, while 23% some­what agreed — for a total of 59%. We asked about both rev­enue bills and bud­gets because in a num­ber of oth­er states (Cal­i­for­nia comes to mind), the right wing has suc­ceed­ed in chang­ing the rules to require a two-thirds vote to pass budgets.

We have no doubt that were the right wing to suc­ceed in get­ting Wash­ing­ton’s Con­sti­tu­tion changed to require a two-thirds vote to pass rev­enue bills, they would then move on to try­ing to impose a sim­i­lar require­ment for bud­get­ing, in order to give them­selves more pow­er. They are always seek­ing more pow­er for them­selves. Even if they don’t have leg­isla­tive majori­ties, they want to be call­ing the shots.

With this research in hand, we here­by serve notice to the right wing in Wash­ing­ton — Tim Eyman and the Wash­ing­ton Pol­i­cy Cen­ter includ­ed —  that we will no longer allow them to go unchal­lenged in claim­ing that vot­ers sup­port their efforts to sab­o­tage Arti­cle II, Sec­tion 22 of our Constitution.

Major­i­ty rule is good for every­body. Whether you’re a Demo­c­rat, a Repub­li­can, a Green, a Lib­er­tar­i­an, or an inde­pen­dent, you should want to live in a state where the laws get made by the many, and not the few. Our leg­isla­tive process is already delib­er­a­tive in nature, and rais­ing tax­es is already dif­fi­cult. We should stick with the plan of gov­ern­ment our Founders gave us — which wise­ly bal­ances major­i­ty rule with minor­i­ty rights — and reject ill-con­ceived attempts to mess with it.

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