Petitions for Referendum 88
Completed petitions for Referendum 88 (Photographer unknown; from Facebook)

With Repub­li­can megadonor Bri­an Hey­wood open­ing his wal­let to fund a sig­na­ture dri­ve for six right wing ini­tia­tives to the 2024 Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture spon­sored by Jim Walsh, Ever­green State vot­ers are increas­ing­ly encoun­ter­ing peti­tion­ers out in pub­lic. They’re work­ing fer­ry lines, store entrances, and large events, hop­ing to score sig­na­tures for half a dozen schemes to defund Wash­ing­ton’s essen­tial pub­lic ser­vices and wreck government.

In Yaki­ma, the appear­ance of right wing peti­tion­ers at the Nob Hill Wal­mart prompt­ed a num­ber of peo­ple to lodge com­plaints, appar­ent­ly both with store man­age­ment as well as the author­i­ties. Among those who called 911 was the may­or of Yaki­ma, Jan­ice Dec­cio. The Yaki­ma Her­ald-Repub­lic report­ed that:

Dec­cio said she con­tact­ed police after hear­ing from con­stituents who were con­cerned the sig­na­ture gath­er­ers were harass­ing shop­pers and asked if any­thing could be done if the prop­er­ty own­er did­n’t want them there.

The police dis­patch­er who spoke with Dec­cio and the dispatcher’s super­vi­sor indi­cat­ed that the peti­tion­ers had a right to gath­er sig­na­tures at Wal­mart, and on pub­lic or pri­vate prop­er­ty under the First Amend­ment, accord­ing to a tran­script of the call. The busi­ness own­er would need a court order to have peti­tion­ers removed, police said.

Dec­cio’s 911 call was obtained through pub­lic records and has been cir­cu­lat­ing online, with Glen Mor­gan, Tim Eyman, and oth­er right wing oper­a­tives shar­ing Dec­cio’s mobile num­ber and urg­ing their fol­low­ers to send her angry messages.

Eyman appears in the Yaki­ma Her­ald-Repub­lic sto­ry as Dec­cio’s chief critic:

“Once a store opens itself to Girl Scout cook­ie sales, the Sal­va­tion Army or oth­er groups, they have to be open to every­one,” Eyman said. “(Peti­tion sig­na­ture gath­er­ing) is a First Amend­ment activ­i­ty – you can’t pick and choose.

“Thank­ful­ly the Yaki­ma police and coun­ty sher­iff under­stood that. The elect­ed may­or of Yaki­ma did not, and peo­ple are hold­ing her account­able,” he added.

The arti­cle lat­er relates Dec­cio’s per­spec­tive on the matter:

“Who the group was is not the issue here, as I don’t care, nor even know, what they were peti­tion­ing about, just that he told me they were harass­ing shop­pers and that the man­ag­er had called the police numer­ous times dur­ing the week after she had asked the peti­tion­ers to move from the entrance of the store.”

Dec­cio said since her Sept. 3 call, numer­ous “cred­i­ble, local peo­ple” had told her the petitioner’s behav­ior was aggres­sive and they felt harassed and threat­ened by them.

She said she called 911 because, on the Sun­day of Labor Day week­end, she could not reach YPD Chief Matt Mur­ray by email and no one answered the department’s non-emer­gency number.

“I called 911, iden­ti­fied myself (as may­or) and told them it was not an emer­gency and I need­ed to talk to some­one who may know what was going on,” Dec­cio wrote in her state­ment. “I admit I was unaware of all the nuances of the law at that time… and in hind­sight, I could have wait­ed to hear from the chief.

“But I did know that if peti­tion­ers were harass­ing or inter­fer­ing with shop­pers, the busi­ness could ask them to move. I just wasn’t aware that it took a court order,” she added. “I nev­er asked the police to go out to Wal­mart or demand­ed that any­thing be done.”

In her state­ment, Dec­cio said the harass­ing phone calls, texts and voice­mails in reply to the 911 call have also been direct­ed at her hus­band, a dis­abled vet­er­an with PTSD, as well as her fel­low City Coun­cil members.

“Near­ly all of the emails are from peo­ple from out­side of Yaki­ma,” she added.

Empha­sis is mine.

Tim Eyman and his fol­low­ers have made it clear that they don’t like what the may­or did. And they cer­tain­ly have every right to dis­agree with May­or Deccio.

But harass­ment is not a form of accountability.

Here’s the truth: In orches­trat­ing this bom­bard­ment of an elect­ed offi­cial’s per­son­al mobile num­ber with angri­ly-word­ed text mes­sages, Eyman and oth­ers are seek­ing to intim­i­date an elect­ed offi­cial so she does­n’t cross them in the future. The goal is not to respect­ful­ly dis­agree (which can be done through offi­cial chan­nels), it’s to make Dec­cio feel bad… to inflict dis­tress and emo­tion­al suffering.

Hence the nasty­grams Dec­cio describes above, which her hus­band is also getting.

I myself have been on the receiv­ing end of one of Tim Eyman’s attempt­ed cam­paigns of harass­ment in years past, so I have per­son­al­ly observed how his fol­low­ers car­ry out his direc­tives. The con­tent of a large per­cent­age of the mes­sages could be described as pro­fane, abu­sive, and threatening.

That is just how Eyman likes it. He knows exact­ly how his fol­low­ers are word­ing their mes­sages to his tar­gets because he instructs them to copy him. He likes to be able to rev­el in all of the nasty­grams that are being sent. (It seems not to both­er him that his own troops mis­spell his last name in a zil­lion dif­fer­ent ways.)

Eyman’s attempt to intim­i­date me was an utter fail­ure, and I hope his effort to May­or Dec­cio fails sim­i­lar­ly. But no activist or elect­ed offi­cial should have to be on the receiv­ing end of vicious attacks from peo­ple who have been incit­ed to anger.

All of us have rights under the First Amend­ment to speak our minds, pub­lish our thoughts on the issues of the day, prac­tice what­ev­er reli­gion we’d like, freely assem­ble, and peti­tion the gov­ern­ment for a redress of grievances.

Those rights deserve to be respect­ed and protected.

But respect is a two-way street. The First Amend­ment isn’t just for Republicans.

Vot­ers have the right not to sign a peti­tion if they do not want to and they should­n’t have to put up with aggres­sive behav­ior from peti­tion­ers if they do not wish to par­tic­i­pate in a sig­na­ture dri­ve. Coer­cive tac­tics are unacceptable.

Prop­er­ty own­ers like­wise have rights. A per­son exer­cis­ing their First Amend­ment right to peti­tion is oblig­at­ed to respect oth­ers’ prop­er­ty rights. There have been many dis­putes over the years con­cern­ing whether a prop­er­ty own­er can tres­pass a peti­tion­er oper­at­ing on their prop­er­ty if their prop­er­ty is open to the public.

The courts have devel­oped case law on the mat­ter and any­one want­i­ng to under­stand that case law would be well served to car­ry out their own legal research, because Tim Eyman is not be trust­ed. He lies and dis­torts at every turn.

Eleven years ago, Eyman took mon­ey from one of his anti-tax ini­tia­tives and used it to fund a sig­na­ture dri­ve for a dif­fer­ent, unre­lat­ed ini­tia­tive that end­ed up appear­ing on the bal­lot ten years ago: I‑517. The goal of Ini­tia­tive 517 was to make it eas­i­er and cheap­er for Eyman to qual­i­fy ini­tia­tives to the bal­lot in the future. I‑517 sought to give peti­tion­ers spe­cial priv­i­leges under the law that no one else want­i­ng to exer­cise their First Amend­ment rights would have had.

NPI, the Wash­ing­ton Food Indus­try Asso­ci­a­tion, the Wash­ing­ton Retail Asso­ci­a­tion, the North­west Gro­cery Asso­ci­a­tion, and oth­er part­ners worked togeth­er to secure the defeat of I‑517 in 2013. Our team at NPI devel­oped the argu­ments that the cam­paign pre­sent­ed to vot­ers in oppo­si­tion to I‑517.

Those argu­ments end­ed up being extreme­ly com­pelling and the ini­tia­tive failed over­whelm­ing­ly, with more than 61% of vot­ers vot­ing no on I‑517. It remains, to this day, the biggest mar­gin of defeat of any Tim Eyman ini­tia­tive ever.

Here’s our voter’s pam­phlet state­ment in oppo­si­tion to I‑517.

Fun fact: I am the pri­ma­ry author, Rob McKen­na helped edit it, and both of us signed it. It was a great moment in bipar­ti­san­ship in Wash­ing­ton State!

I‑517 vio­lates Wash­ing­to­ni­ans’ prop­er­ty rights
Courts have ruled that peti­tion­ers must respect pri­vate prop­er­ty rights when col­lect­ing sig­na­tures, but I‑517 pre­vents prop­er­ty own­ers from hav­ing con­trol over sig­na­ture gath­er­ing on their prop­er­ty, infring­ing upon their con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly-guar­an­teed prop­er­ty rights. Under I‑517, law enforce­ment would be direct­ed to vig­or­ous­ly pro­tect peti­tion­ers col­lect­ing with­in a twen­ty-five foot zone. Busi­ness own­ers would not be able to stop aggres­sive peti­tion­ers from block­ing and harass­ing cus­tomers who are try­ing to enter or exit a store. Instead, their prop­er­ty rights would be disregarded.

I‑517 ben­e­fits Tim Eyman
Spon­sor Tim Eyman is a full-time ini­tia­tive pro­po­nent who makes mon­ey off the mea­sures he pro­motes. Under I‑517, it would be eas­i­er and cheap­er for Eyman to qual­i­fy future ini­tia­tives to the bal­lot, mean­ing he could dou­ble his out­put and increase his profits.

I‑517 would make peti­tion­ing more intrusive
I‑517 allows out of state peti­tion­ers to be active in Wash­ing­ton year-round – both inside and out­side pub­lic build­ings. Peti­tion­ers could go inside sports sta­di­ums like Safe­co Field or Com­cast Are­na, pub­lic libraries, and even pub­lic school events like high school foot­ball games to ask Wash­ing­to­ni­ans to sign stacks of petitions.

I‑517 would increase elec­tions costs
A pro­vi­sion tucked away in I‑517 forces cities and coun­ties to put local ini­tia­tives on the bal­lot even if they’re ille­gal or invalid, wast­ing tax­pay­er dol­lars on unnec­es­sary elections.

Join for­mer Sec­re­taries of State Ralph Munro and Sam Reed in vot­ing no on I‑517.

Again, these argu­ments res­onat­ed with Wash­ing­to­ni­ans: More than three in five vot­ers reject­ed I‑517 in the Novem­ber 2013 elec­tion. Vot­ers made it very clear that they’re against intru­sive peti­tion­ing and abuse of the ini­tia­tive process.

Wash­ing­ton’s right wing would do well to remem­ber that.

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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