This autumn, statewide voters must decide what to do with Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976, a measure designed to wreck bipartisan, voter-approved transportation investments at the state, regional, and local levels in Washington State.
I‑976 is the latest in a decades-long series of initiatives conceived by Eyman that are intended to defund the Evergreen State’s essential public services, collectively robbing us as Washingtonians of the resources we need to support each other, build prosperous businesses, and lead healthy lives.
If implemented, I‑976 would eliminate $4.2 billion in transportation investments over the next six years, according to the Office of Financial Management. The impacts are even greater over a ten-year timeframe. Sound Transit has estimated that I‑976 could jeopardize up to $20 billion in transit expansion funding that voters in urban King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties approved three years ago.
At the Northwest Progressive Institute, we’ve been working to defeat I‑976 for almost a year and a half. Our efforts to defeat I‑976 began the same day that Eyman announced his intention to qualify the measure: April 16th, 2018.
On that day, through our Permanent Defense project, we published a statement saying we were ready to go to bat to defend the multimodal transportation infrastructure that we had repeatedly voted for. Several weeks later, we launched no976.org and began recruiting other organizations to join us in opposing I‑976.
In January, when Eyman turned in the remainder of his signatures, we were there. We pledged that there would be a vigorous campaign against I‑976. And there is.
As we enter the homestretch of the battle against I‑976, our team at NPI is gratified to see so many people and organizations stepping up to join the campaign — which, like past campaigns against similarly destructive measures, is being waged by the Keep Washington Rolling coalition, of which NPI is a member.
Keep Washington Rolling has won many fights in its almost fifteen year history.
In 2005, the coalition defeated John Carlson and Kirby Wilbur’s Initiative 912, which Eyman had confidently predicted would pass in a landslide.
Six years later, the coalition reformed to defeat Eyman’s I‑1125, a measure that Eyman qualified eight years ago in the hopes of thwarting Sound Transit’s East Link light rail project and banning variable tolling on SR 520.
And the coalition worked with legislators and Governor Jay Inslee to secure passage of the 2015 Connecting Washington transportation package.
Four years later, Keep Washington Rolling is committed to waging the best possible campaign against Eyman’s I‑976 that its coalition partners can put together.
Eyman, meanwhile, seems locked in a destructive spiral. His initiative factory is collapsing and his legal woes are mounting. He’s trapped in Chapter 11 bankruptcy after having unsuccessfully tried to stall the campaign finance enforcement lawsuit brought against him and his associates by Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
At the same time, Eyman’s behavior has become more and more erratic, as we memorably saw in February when Eyman stole a chair from the Lacey Office Depot.
To pitch Initiative 976, Eyman has deployed what could be called his greatest hits — a collection of catchphrases, insults, attacks, and rejoinders that he developed during his early years, primarily 1999–2002. Eyman even has a prop to go with his greatest hits: for months, he has been bringing an old thirty dollar car tabs sign around with him to meetings and speaking engagements.
One of Eyman’s greatest hits is his ridiculous claim that his opponents (that would be us) “don’t have a single meritorious argument” against initiatives like I‑976. As Eyman put it in an email to his followers on January 4th, 2019:
So all we’re gonna hear from them are stories about me. Just me. Only me. Tim’s bankrupt. Tim’s divorced. Tim’s awful. […] For twenty years, politicians and the press have been trying the vote-no-on-Tim’s-initiative-because-Tim’s-a-bad-guy message. It’s never worked.
Take a moment to appreciate the absurdity of what you just read.
Every time Eyman makes this stupid and false claim, it gives him another chance to talk about himself and shake his electronic tin cup.
Eyman talks about himself and his personal circumstances in public on an extremely frequent basis, whether it’s through email missives or Facebook posts. He doesn’t limit himself to talking about the initiatives he is trying to sell or commenting on state politics. He has an insatiable need for attention.
If you look at the NO on I‑976 website, you can see for yourself that Eyman is a liar. Our website is full of meritorious arguments against Initiative 976. It would worsen traffic, it would make our tax code even more regressive, and it would imperil projects all over the state that are intended to make our commutes safer and give us more choices for getting around so that driving isn’t our only option.
Nonetheless, Eyman continues to assert that his opposition has no good arguments and so is clinging to a desperate strategy of make Tim Eyman the bad guy to win. Eyman’s pals on right wing talk radio, especially Dori Monson, have echoed this argument, including as recently as last week.
As usual, though, Tim Eyman is wrong. Eyman’s the one who has made himself inseparable from the debate over Initiative 976.
It was Eyman who decided, at the outset, that the Initiative 976 campaign would be him, and he would be the campaign. They are one and the same.
We didn’t make that choice — he did.
If there is a better example of a one-man show in the history of Washington State politics, I’m hard pressed to think of it, and I know more Washington State political history than most.
Consider the evidence.
Tim Eyman is the primary sponsor and author of Initiative 976, the principal donor to I‑976 (if the campaign finance reports his treasurer filed are accurate) its main spokesman and promoter, and its chief strategist.
Tim wrote the statement in favor of I‑976 that appears in the voter’s pamphlet and recorded the video equivalent for TVW, the state’s public affairs cable television network. He’s the one appearing in front of editorial boards to push I‑976 in his orange t‑shirt with his tab-shaped stickers.
And of course, he fields the media inquiries.
In fact, he has instructed journalists and columnists to reach out to him before writing anything about I‑976. Repeatedly. Like on January 22nd, 2019, when he sent out an email saying: “Media: plz contact me when reporting on initiative.” He sent a similar email on August 1st with a one page propaganda piece attached.
Eyman has always relished the spotlight. He loves being in the arena, and I’ve heard him say it many times. He’s also said in it writing many times.
Glory is arguably just as important to Tim as making money. He absolutely loves being the center of attention. He has dressed up as Darth Vader, Buzz Lightyear, a prisoner, and a gorilla in various ploys for attention over the years.
Perhaps the best fresh evidence that Tim Eyman is synonymous with the initiatives he’s pitching (like I‑976) is his most recent C1-PC (political committee) registration filed in June 2019. If you look at it, you’ll see that Tim Eyman is the committee’s one and only named officer aside from his Treasurer, Thurston County’s Sarah Eckert, who Eyman pays to keep the books.
Eyman is prohibited under the terms of a 2002 settlement with the state from serving as a campaign treasurer, so he’s obligated to have someone like Eckert as his Treasurer. Aside from Eckert, though, there’s nobody else listed.
And that’s because there are no other decision makers. Eyman isn’t even pretending otherwise anymore. His longtime sidekicks — Mike and Jack Fagan of Spokane — have parted ways with him, which is why they don’t appear on the committee’s latest registration as they have in the past. The younger Fagan confirmed this to The Spokesman-Review in an article that ran yesterday.
Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan and his father, Jack, have worked with Eyman since 1999. Fagan, too, is a sponsor of the initiative and largely agreed with Eyman’s assessment. However, he said he parted ways with Eyman and dissolved any businesses and committees related to his initiative work with Eyman.
Fagan said his father’s old age was the main cause, but Eyman has troubles that may spell the end of his crusading career.
Aside from an embarrassing episode in February when he allegedly stole a $70 chair from an Office Depot store in Lacey, Washington, he continues to fight a campaign-finance lawsuit, in which Attorney General Bob Ferguson has accused Eyman of using the initiative process to get rich, according to the Seattle Times.
He has been found in contempt twice and faces a lifetime ban on directing the finances of political action committees.
Even when the Fagans were named officers of Eyman’s committees, they did not share equal ownership in the strategic decision-making with Eyman.
That is abundantly clear from the thousands of pages of depositions I’ve read in the State of Washington’s campaign finance enforcement lawsuit against Eyman, which includes depositions of both of the Fagans as well as Eyman’s wife.
Eyman has long been — and remains — a solo act. It’s how he likes it.
What Eyman can’t do himself that he requires in order to keep his initiative factory running, he procures… like petition signatures, website hosting, or accounting services. Even a one-man show can have stagehands, and Tim’s does.
Let’s be clear, though: the people Eyman says he runs with — his benefactors, his Facebook friends, sympathetic state Republican legislators, the subscribers on his email list — those folks are not Eyman’s costars. They are the people in the audience that Eyman is performing for. They’re the ones who keep buying the tickets to the show. The show itself is Eyman’s alone.
When Eyman accuses his opposition of making our campaigns against his initiatives all about him instead of the issues, he’s projecting. It was Eyman who gleefully made himself into a household name and a lightning rod. It is Eyman who chooses to exercise tight control over the initiative factory he created. There isn’t room in his act for anyone else. The money and the glory must go to him.
Our campaign is different. Keep Washington Rolling is a strong and diverse coalition that includes businesses large and small, labor unions, environmental organizations, civic groups, elected leaders, and community activists. We have joined forces to protect the state that we love from I‑976. We are working together – cooperatively – to wage this campaign to the best of our ability.
Usually, statewide ballot measure campaigns have a lot of people involved. They have a steering committee of some kind, a campaign manager, field organizers, consultants who help with strategy, messaging, fundraising, and communications, speakers who participate in a speaker’s bureau, and so on. Having lots of people involved is advantageous, as there is no one single point of failure.
As I’ve explained, Tim Eyman’s operation doesn’t look like that.
But our coalition does. Look at its membership.
We are building an inclusive coalition that seeks to unite Washingtonians around the values and principles our state was founded upon. Everyone who shares our objective of expanding freedom of mobility is welcome to join us.
Together, we believe we can say no to the politics of malice and division. Together, we can build a transportation system that is safer and empowers people to get where they want to go without polluting the Earth, our common home. Join us and get engaged as we work to secure our state’s future by defeating I‑976.