A frustrated Tim Eyman rubs his eyes
An unhappy Tim Eyman was flanked by glum followers at the Secretary of State's Elections Annex in Olympia. (Photo: Sherry Bockwinkel for NPI).

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.

For instance, Eyman false­ly claimed, as loud­ly as pos­si­ble, that there was “more than enough rev­enue to back­fill any affect­ed gov­ern­ment program.” 

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.

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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