Tim Eyman signs Initiative 947
Tim Eyman becomes the first signer of Initiative 947 (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

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.

Edi­to­r­i­al boards like The Seat­tle Times and The Wal­la Wal­la Union Bul­letin have cit­ed these mer­i­to­ri­ous argu­ments in jus­ti­fy­ing their oppo­si­tion to I‑976.

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.

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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