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Stick a fork in it, it’s done: Tim Eyman’s latest initiative to gut Sound Transit fails to qualify

Tim Eyman‘s losing streak keeps getting longer.

The beleaguered initiative profiteer conceded in an email this morning that he was unable to gather sufficient signatures to qualify his latest scheme to “stick it to Sound Transit” as an initiative to the 2018 Legislature. Eyman had previously tried twice last year to qualify similar initiatives (I-1421 and I-869), failing each time.

“Despite months of hard work and effort by a lot of great people, I’m really disappointed to announce that we didn’t make it,” Eyman’s email began.

“I know that this is heartbreaking news.”

For him and his followers, it is heartbreaking news. For the rest of us, it’s fantastic news. Our state and region sorely need a robust mass transit system. Sound Transit’s ST3 projects, along with WSDOT’s Amtrak Cascades service, are vital if we’re to have a transportation system that is people-centric instead of auto-centric.

Eyman has been obsessed with trying to destroy Sound Transit (or, alternatively, leave it badly wounded) since even before voters approved ST3 in last year’s presidential election. For 2016, he had originally intended to pursue an initiative that would require any new increases in revenue to expire after a year.

But Eyman abandoned that idea in favor of chasing Sound Transit, his great white whale. Not unlike Captain Ahab in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Eyman has been fixated on trying to “stick it to Sound Transit” for a very long time.

To understand Eyman’s fixation on destroying Sound Transit, it’s important to understand that the agency is an old foe of Eyman’s… a foe that Eyman has been unable to beat no matter how many times he’s tried.

In his first battle with Sound Transit, fifteen years ago, Eyman came away thinking that he’d stopped light rail from being built when voters narrowly passed I-776, his statewide initiative to repeal vehicle fees… but it turned out he hadn’t.

To Eyman’s astonishment, Sound Transit went to court and successfully argued that its vehicle fees could not be repealed because they had been pledged to pay bonds. (Contracts between a local government and bondholders enjoy constitutional protection under Washington State’s plan of government and are thus inviolate.)

Then, with the help of Slade Gorton, Sound Transit successfully persuaded the Bush administration and a Republican-controlled Congress to appropriate funding for Central Link, Sound Transit’s inaugural light rail line. Groundbreaking took place the following year, and Central Link opened to riders in July of 2009.

Sound Transit has gone on to complete three more light rail extensions: Airport Link (2009), University Link (2016), and Angle Lake Link (also 2016).

There are now sixteen stations in the system, connecting the University of Washington to Angle Lake in SeaTac. More than a dozen more stations are now under construction, including on the Eastside (Mercer Island, Bellevue, Redmond).

What’s more, voters in Puget Sound have authorized Sound Transit to expand light rail further in every direction: west to Ballard and West Seattle, east to downtown Redmond, north to Everett, and south to Tacoma. The agency also has the green light to expand commuter rail service and start up new bus rapid transit lines.

Nearly all of Sound Transit’s Phase I projects (approved in 1996) are now complete, and quite a few of the Phase II projects (approved in 2008) have moved into the construction phase. Those projects cannot be stopped now.

The ST3 projects are a different story. They’re only in the planning stages. Prior to last year’s successful ST3 vote, they were only on the drawing board as part of Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan (LRP).

Eyman would like nothing more than to kill them off.

At the same time Sound Transit’s board was reaching out to the public to put together what became the ST3 package (numbered, like ST2 before it, “Proposition 1”), Eyman was shopping for funders for I-1421, which he announced he would try to get on the 2016 ballot at a February 8th media event.

At a gathering of the Eastside Republican Club on March 1st, 2016 in Bellevue, Eyman pitched I-1421 as the way to defeat Sound Transit 3 by saying:

What our initiative does — Sound Transit Phase 3 coming to the ballot this November, is a 3-legged stool.

They’re asking you for higher property taxes, higher sales taxes, and higher car tab taxes, all in one big happy package.

They’re going to ask you for that much money, and they’re going to say, “And we promise you we’re going to give you all this stuff that you’re going to get for that amount of money.”

By us doing this statewide [initiative], we’re going to be on the same ballot as they are, and what that forces Sound Transit to do, they have to say, “Vote yes on our package, even though one third of it may very well go away if that dirty dog Eyman’s initiative passes on the same [November 2016] ballot.”

What the follow-up question will be [is]: “Okay, if one third of the money goes away what one third of the projects are going to go away?” They’re going to have to say, “You know, we don’t know yet, but give us the money and we’ll figure it out later.”

This is the NO on Sound Transit Phase 3 campaign. This is the way to stop Sound Transit’s Phase 3.

Eyman was unable, however, to find any benefactors willing to underwrite I-1421. And so the initiative collapsed.

Its failure went largely unnoticed by the mass media, as Eyman abandoned it very quietly during the midst of the last few weeks of nominating season.

The Herald’s Jerry Cornfield, a veteran member of the state’s press corps, was among the few reporters to pin Eyman down about I-1421’s fate.

A few weeks later, Eyman started over with I-869, which he marketed under the tagline “We Love Our Cars”. Like I-947, I-869 was an initiative to the Legislature. Unlike I-947, I-869’s demise passed without any comment by Eyman as the December 2016 signature deadline came and went.

That’s because Eyman didn’t make much of an effort to actually qualify I-869. He felt he could get away with quietly abandoning it — as though it had never existed.

But for I-947 — his third and most recent attempt in two years to “stick it to Sound Transit” — Eyman decided to actually try mounting a signature drive with volunteer labor, figuring (wrongly) that people were so mad about ST3 vehicle fee increases that the initiative might simply catch fire and he could get back on the ballot without needing a huge cash infusion from a wealthy benefactor.

Eyman announced I-947 by himself at a press conference in the plaza adjoining Seattle’s King Street Station, seemingly failing to appreciate his choice of venue was made possible by taxpayers, who paid for King Street Station’s interior and exterior to be lovingly restored as part of a multi-phase project.

Plenty of media outlets showed up and breathlessly reported on Eyman’s new gambit. Most neglected to mention in their reporting that Eyman’s last four announced initiatives had ended in failure and so there was good reason to be very skeptical that Eyman would be able to qualify I-947.

Pleased with the media coverage he’d been able to generate, Eyman got very busy waxing nostalgic about I-695 and I-776 and attempting to essentially recreate his 1999 campaign to eviscerate vehicle fees. Instead of just asking his followers for money, Eyman pleaded with them to circulate petitions with gusto, week after week.

“Collecting 300,000 signatures in 5 months is do-able,” Eyman told his followers on July 19th. “We collected and submitted 514,000 sigs for our $30 Tabs Initiative in 1999 [I-695]. Back then, we didn’t even have a website or an email address. And we didn’t have big list of supporters like we have now. We are battle-tested warriors now. But even more critical than that, we have the fire, the fury, and the frustration all of us feel about skyrocketing car tab taxes and Sound Transit’s lies.”

It didn’t take Eyman long to conclude that rage simply wasn’t going to be enough to power a successful signature drive for I-947. Without the means to run a paid signature drive as in past years, Eyman resorted to offering t-shirts and promises of future work to anyone foolish enough to help him. It still wasn’t enough.

“Why didn’t we make it this time?” Eyman asked rhetorically in his email today, going on to say: “It boils down to money — we just didn’t raise enough funds to hire paid petitioners to supplement our volunteers. Getting 350,000 sigs in a handful of months is hugely difficult even when the initiative’s policy is super popular.”

We have pointed out for years that the gears of Tim Eyman’s initiative factory can’t turn unless the cash is flowing. And now Eyman has explicitly conceded the point. He does not have the means to get on the ballot without a whale like Kenneth Fisher, Clyde Holland, Kemper Freeman, Jr., or Michael Dunmire opening their checkbooks.

But even if Eyman can’t run a grassroots drive, that doesn’t mean nobody can.

In 2015, a grassroots army succeeded in qualifying WAmend’s Initiative 735 as an initiative to the Legislature for 2016 with mostly volunteer labor. I-735 sought to put Washington State on record as in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and get big money out of elections.

WAmend, then led by NPI Vice President-Secretary Diane Jones with help from founding NPI boardmember Steve Zemke, overcame a series of substantial obstacles in order to gather the necessary signatures. I-735 ultimately appeared on the November 2016 ballot, where it was overwhelmingly approved.

Eyman declined to say in today’s email how many signatures had been collected in total over the course of the I-947 campaign, but he has recognized a handful of people (like Bob Henkel) as having collected a thousand or several thousand signatures each during the weeks leading up to today’s signature deadline.

It must have been apparent to Eyman that he would fall short before the holidays arrived, because he chose to unveil his plans for 2018 midway through the month, during what should have been the home stretch for I-947.

We released a statement earlier today through Permanent Defense reacting to I-947’s demise. We’re thrilled to see I-947 go down in flames. It’s truly a fitting fate for a destructive initiative that tried to take our state and region backwards.

Tim Eyman’s losing streak now stands at five consecutive failed initiatives. Five consecutive initiatives that did not qualify for the ballot. That’s unprecedented. And very welcome…. we much prefer opposing fake Eyman initiatives to real ones.

I-947’s collapse doesn’t mean that Sound Transit is safe from attack, however. We don’t expect anti-rail Republicans to give up on scuttling the ST3 projects we voted for. They still want to overturn the voters’ will. That’s why we remain committed to maintaining a Permanent Defense against whatever they cook up next.

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  1. By News Roundup: The Case for the Subway on January 4th, 2018 at 7:35 AM

    […] a fork in it, it’s done: Tim Eyman’s latest initiative to gut Sound Transit fails to qualify. NW Progressive gets their […]