Eyman in disblief over I-1366 court decision
Tim Eyman can't believe the verdict in Lee v. State (Courtesy of KING5)

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To Eyman’s aston­ish­ment, Sound Tran­sit went to court and suc­cess­ful­ly argued that its vehi­cle fees could not be repealed because they had been pledged to pay bonds.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.

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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