Tim Eyman is not happy.
The convicted serial public disclosure law offender and notorious chair thief — who is fond of sending out email missives that liberally utilize all caps — is having a public meltdown over the Washington State House of Representatives’ passage of House Bill 1876, long overdue and sorely needed legislation that would require fiscal impacts of proposed initiatives to be disclosed in their ballot titles.
Prime sponsored by State Representative Mia Gregerson, HB 1876 was approved by the House in a historic vote on Saturday, as explained in this post. It is one of the few initiative reform bills to ever be voted off the House floor, and its enactment would help ensure that voters are never again deceived by manipulated initiative ballot titles that lack context and key facts.
For Eyman, HB 1876 represents an existential threat to the prospects of any future scheme he manages to get in front of the voters. Eyman has relied heavily on loaded language in ballot titles (which are the questions voters see before the ovals that read Yes/No or Approved/Rejected on ballot measures) to get his schemes to wreck public services and sabotage our Constitution past voters.
But if the law is changed to require that voters be told the truth about what measures like Eyman’s would actually do, with the fiscal impacts flagged right on the ballot, Eyman fears it would spell doom for his cons.
And he really, really, really doesn’t like that.
So, after days of repeatedly pitching the “Free Tim Eyman” podcast one of his buddies recorded for him, Eyman has switched gears and is making his opposition to HB 1876 his top focus. He’s asking all of his followers to sign in against HB 1876 when it has its hearing in the Senate this Friday, and to email every single one of the Senate’s forty-nine members denouncing the bill.
Eyman contends that enactment of HB 1876 would throw out “one hundred years” of neutrality in initiative ballot titles.
But that’s complete bunk: The ballot titles that voters have been seeing going back decades have frequently been far from neutral, and state law concerning initiatives has been changed many, many times since the 1910s. The current elections code mandates very short ballot titles for statewide initiatives that are frequently one-sided or lacking key facts, despite the requirement that they “be a true and impartial description of the measure’s essential contents.”
The I‑976 ballot title from three years ago (which Eyman is very proud of, and which he says is the impetus for HB 1876) is a good example. That ballot title was so dishonest and manipulative that I dubbed it a “blazing dumpster fire.” That characterization caught on and was subsequently mentioned in the Supreme Court oral arguments concerning I‑976’s blatant unconstitutionality. The Supreme Court later agreed with those arguments when it struck down I‑976 in its entirety.
As a figurative snake oil salesman, Eyman knows full well that the power of his pitches would be severely undermined by more truthful ballot titles. (Snake oil just doesn’t sell as well when the truth about the product is disclosed upfront!)
During the I‑976 campaign, Eyman made many provably false statements about I‑976 that were widely disseminated through Washington State media outlets.
That was a lie, but it was a lie the I‑976 ballot title did not contradict.
Imagine if it had.
Imagine if the I‑976 ballot title had responsibly disclosed that passage of I‑976 would decrease funding for transit, for ferries, for the Washington State Patrol, and multimodal transportation projects.
That would have put voters on notice of the significant and devastating ramifications of the measure’s passage, rather than only laying out the revenue side of the equation, when they opened their ballots.
Eyman’s recipe for getting schemes past voters relies on one-sided ballot titles and favorable media coverage. The ballot title does the heavy lifting, and can maintain an edge even against millions of dollars in campaign spending. That’s the power of language. The ballot title is the only official representation of the initiative that appears on the ballot, so its contents are of extreme importance.
Since Eyman historically has not bothered to utilize paid media (television ads, radio ads, and so on) to hawk his initiatives after they qualify, losing his ballot title advantage would be a huge blow. And again, Eyman knows it. He’s very scared.
“If this bill passes into law and empowers the AG to slap a totally biased Surgeon General’s warning label on tax initiatives (but not other kinds of initiatives), then no tax initiative will pass ever again,” Eyman fumes in today’s missive.
Totally biased. Yeah, that nicely sums up a lot of the ballot titles belonging to the Eyman initiatives that we have fought over the past twenty years.
If you are not familiar with Eyman or his trickery, you might be wondering: how does Eyman get those totally biased titles in the first place?
The answer: through manipulation. Lots and lots of manipulation.
If you’ve ever looked at the State of Washington’s initiative filings, then you’ve probably noticed that Eyman files dozens upon dozens of initiatives every single year. Well, there’s a reason for all those filings: Eyman is constantly shopping for good ballot titles. He files many copies of his various schemes, adding, removing, or tweaking provisions in various ways in an attempt to obtain the most favorable language possible for the measure’s official synopsis from the Office of the Attorney General, which is charged with developing ballot titles.
Current law limits the AGO to describing statewide initiatives in just thirty words, which is, oddly, a lot less than what is typically allowed for local propositions.
State law simply does not give the attorneys tasked with writing ballot titles the flexibility to consistently offer the context that would be needed for voters to evaluate and render an informed decision on the measure based on the title alone, despite ironically requiring that titles “must… not, to the extent reasonably possible, create prejudice either for or against the measure.”
The limits on the length of the title and what can be in it are not in place at the local level, where different rules govern the writing of ballot titles.
It makes absolutely no sense that local propositions can be more detailed and offer voters a summary of fiscal impacts when statewide initiatives cannot.
That is why HB 1876 is so important, and so needed. The bill prescribes some of that important missing context. This legislation is an attempt to make the titles voters see more neutral, not less so, but in Eyman’s warped universe, it’s the other way around. Up is down, right is left, north is south, and so on. Anything that threatens his ability to dupe voters in the future is just Not Fair!
We are excited to continue our advocacy for HB 1876 in the Senate this week.
If you agree that future statewide initiative ballot titles should responsibly disclose fiscal impacts to voters like local propositions typically do, then please sign in PRO on HB 1876, which will inform legislators of your position. Contrary to what Eyman told his followers today, it’s really easy to do, and it only takes a minute of your time. The deadline to sign in is this Friday at 9:30 AM.