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.