August 08, 2006
Conservatives and Initiatives
Recent events surrounding citizen initiatives, including their frequent use in recent years, beg an important philosophical question. Those initiatives largely have their root in the Progressive Era, where the vox populi was given profound credence by those such as Williams Jennings Bryan who were hardly proud conservatives.
With that in mind, I find it philosophically inconsistent for some self-proclaimed conservatives to now favor citizen initiatives as the best means by which to enact supposedly conservative policies. Doug Parris at the Reagan Wing claims Tim Eyman is in fact the "most valuable player" in the conservative arsenal. This is the same Tim Eyman who now miraculously influences decisions by the State Supreme Court, and was accordingly critiqued by David Postman.
My own thoughts on Tim Eyman's recent adventures might lead the sentient reader to believe I wouldn't agree with Mr. Parris' assessment that Eyman is a panacea of conservative thought and action. One angle of that disagreement was succinctly expressed by Jim King at comment # 4 at this aforementioned post: that being that Eyman's initiatives are actually counterproductive to true fiscal conservatism as expressed through a representative democracy. I argued similarly as part of my own critique of Eyman cited above, objecting to how Eyman claims state surpluses are part of the cure to the immediate impacts of his initiatives.
Which leads to this series of questions for Sound Politics readers, putting aside entirely the baggage that may now accompany Tim Eyman: should conservatives be so reliant on citizen initiatives? Have not conservatives traditionally stood for restrained government, as expressed through the separation of powers doctrine, which limits the very passions of the people the Founders also desired to see tempered? Why should we rely on a means of policy enactment embraced by the Progressives, but which would likely be frowned upon by foundational conservative thinkers such as Edmond Burke?
Have at it.
Posted by Eric Earling at August 08, 2006
07:08 AM | Email This
A couple obvious drawbacks of the initiative system:
1) Some issues shouldn't be decided by majority opinion alone. Particularly, when the issue is how to protect minorities from the majority, as discussed here.
2) Second, people will always opt for short-sighted treats. 'Woo-hoo, cheap car tabs!' (Never mind that infrastructure is subsequently gutted, and that the gutting of the infrastructure hits hardest those who benefit least from the cheap car tabs.)
Why should we try to wage political battle with our hands tied behind our backs? This is a blue state. Fact of life, get over it. How do we conservatives get a voice in an ultra blue state? Initiatives. After all, when Gregoire can lie her pants off to get the Republican rep from Eatonville to vote on the gas tax thing a year or so ago, clearly our reps who are even Republican aren't always acting in the interests of constituency.
My only sadness is that Eyman is too well known for being a trouble maker. I agree with him on a lot of things, disagree on a few things, but the true diehard locals largely hate the guy. My husband, for example, is actually a rather conservative Democrat. He's socially conservative but more fiscally moderate, but his love of unions pegs him as a Democrat (that and the fact that he grew up in a family that has a deepseated hate and mistrust of Republicans even to this day). Now my DH might like an initiative that does away with some sort of affirmative action type of thing, for example. But all he has to see to vote against it is see Tim Eyman's name on the initiative, then I guarantee you he'd vote No. It's not logical, but the thing is, there are at minimum tens of thousands of kneejerk voters just like that in this state.
3. Tim Eyman is the creation of a disconnected legislature. Take for example the car tax. For this argument, never mind how the car tab money was used, it was well understood that the method used to determine the amount of tax was flawed and unfair. The legislature ignored the problem for years. In a perfect world, ignoring the will of the people would get you voted out of office. The fact that these bozos continue to be re-elected is the root of the problem. Until you fix that problem, the initiative process will continue to be popular.
4. One thing I will agree with ferrous on is that Tim Eyman gives only a bad name to Washington conservatism and to the intitiative system in general. He almost seems like a caricature created by Dems to make the right seem unhinged: slimy, bigoted, and criminal. Washington conservatives would do well to marginalize him as much as possible.
Agree with ronin-
As soon as they stop squeezing us for tax dollars that never make our lives easier, i.e. lane capacity and infrastructure, we'll keep them on a tight leash. $25 head tax?! Yeah, we don't need initiatives.
I don't particularly think that initiative system is a great way to govern, BUT, given that so many initiatives are passed against the will of the government it has its purpose to restrain them. It is a check in checks and balance.
It is sad when politicians will run their agenda, the people be damned. It is even worse that they can stay in power. But that may also be the fault of the initiative system - they would be voted out if we couldn't restrain them.
The great thing about living in the USA is that we still can exercise a little personal responsiblity when it comes initiative process. It is a tool and as any product liability lawyer will happily point out, tools can be used correctly and incorrectly. It is up to each and every one of us to examine the issues and make a choice as to which petitions are worth signing and which are not, BUT do not take the choice away. Wasn't it Senator Jacobsen (D) that wanted to have the initiative process stricken from the State Constitution a couple years back?
If "Woo-hoo, cheap car tabs!" is feeling as if he was wronged, the WASDOT has a fund that you can send what you would have been obliged to pay under the old system. If you don't like having property tax growth limited to 1% a year, go back and recompute your tax owed based on the 6% number that was in effect previously (Remember, every year was an emergency so the 6 % and the MAX was applied.) The sad fact is that we have one party rule in this state and the only available check is this process.
The initiative process is destructive of political parties. Pete Wilson rode initiatives in California and destroyed the Republican Party there.
Moreover, as a small-r republican, I oppose direct democracy. The people don't take enough time to learn everything they should in order to make intelligent votes on all the various initiatives that show up on the ballot, and this is true whether it is an Eyman initiative (as the man said, "Woo hoo! Cheap car tabs!") or a left wing/labor union initiative ("Woo hoo! The highest minimum wage in the country!").
Still, there are certain things that the legislature is never going to vote for, good idea or not. I remember that the first initiative I ever voted for was the term limits one (in 1994?), because I thought term limits were a good idea and I knew the ins would never impose that on themselves.
And in the larger sense, we see in the nation's capital that both parties will vote to expand government when it is to their political advantage to do so. I remember when your man Slade Gorton introduced legislation in 2000 to increase CAFE standards, and I thought "WTF?" but I knew he was using this proposed increase in government power as an electoral ploy; he thought it would play well with the voters as he sought reelection. The current Republican Congress is the spendingest Congress we have ever had, because they are trying to buy our votes with our own money. Once elected, principle is abandoned in the quest for reelection.
So what is left to the voter, but the initiative? I don't like it, but I don't have a better answer.
9. How are initiatives that restrain government "big government"?
Correct me if i'm wrong. But once an initiative goes on the ballot the legislature can put up a counter initiative/law or simply enact the initiative. Therefore, the state legislature has the power to put up a competing law for vote. To me, the initiative process isn't useful because it bypasses the legislature and elected representatives but rather as a means to send a message to the representatives that the people really feel passionate about certain issues which the people are perceiving as not being dealt with. The legislature still has the freedom to craft a law which deals with the issue that the initiative is about. Then it comes down to which initiative is the best - the peoples or the legislatures.
Apparently, even with this message being sent via initiative the legislature still doesn't get a hint - ie. Car Tabs, etc.
11. The origins of initiative may indeed be in the Progressive movement of Jennings Bryan, but the purpose of this innovation was to break the stranglehold of the political machines that controlled state legislatures at that time. I do not see why, when there is so much analogous in Olympia, we should abandon this technique as if it taints conservatives by association.
Legast, have you not noticed that we've been in the middle of a war since late 2001? And you know what? Wars cost money. Look at any Congressional spending in this country during wartime and it's always a heck of a lot of spending and not a whole lot of saving.
I get so tired of that strawman of claiming that Republicans are spending to get votes. That is, unless spending on national security will get votes. Then by all means, spend it and spend it well! Because the alternative (Democrat) is to spend a heck of a lot more on social programs and ditch national security.
13. ferrous, at 12: Um, Prescription Drug benefit. That piece of legislation, put forward by Mr. Bush, is the least conservative thing I think I've ever seen a Republican do. It damn near convinced me not to vote for Bush in 2004.
Most of Eyman's initiatives have been to rein in the amount of taxation and tax increases that the people had been enduring. The messages were to prioritize spending, cut waste, and be more responsible with our tax dollars. Just because the courts overturned them for "multiple subject" reasons, does not take away from the fact that the people really did want less taxation. Less taxation can mean smaller government.
Initiatives are not automatic, but even the failed ones can serve notice to our "representatives" that there are things they need to look at that probably weren't originally on their to-do lists.
I do look on the initiative and referendumm processes as part of our "right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
15. I am a Goldwater conservative, having voted for him in my very first election. WWhen the legislature ignores the people as they do here in Washington- then an initiative is a good 2x4 across their heads and gets attention. What part of "we the people" are you in disagreement with?
Allen said: "ferrous, at 12: Um, Prescription Drug benefit. That piece of legislation, put forward by Mr. Bush, is the least conservative thing I think I've ever seen a Republican do. It damn near convinced me not to vote for Bush in 2004."
So I take it only you barely voted Republican in 2004 because you knew that Kerry would happily endorse over a 100 times more of legislation similar to the prescription drug benefit? Good. At least that must mean you are a realist when looking at politics. *wink*
17. Initiatives, referendum and recall are part of the checks and balances on a runaway bureaucracy. They are very difficult. They are a forum for ideas that the political class declines to address. As an exercise in the right to petition government, initiatives can be viewed as a conservative vehicle historically based on the government models studied by Jefferson, etc. (e.g. Athens, Sparta). Win or lose, initiatives can set the political agenda where there is a lack of political will.
If I may remind everyone... William Jennings Bryan was a Democrat and the entire "Monkey Trial" was a set up by local merchants and the A.C.L.U.
As for Tim...he has saved me more money in taxes than ANY politician ever dreamed of!!!
19. Each of us already pay 11 cents on every gallon of gasoline we buy that is forwarded to Cities adn Counties for transportation maintanence adn improvements. In Tacoma this money has been used for everything but street maintenence and now the City wants residents to vote a levy for that purpose. I would be surprized if this money has not been p*ssed down a rat-hole in most jurisdictions. I would like to see an initiative that restricts the way this money can be spent. In Tacoma the Mayor's alley was rehabilitated and this pot of money paid for over half of the cost, yet ZERO dollars from this pot of money were spent on residential street maintenence.
JDH @ 19
My thoughts exactly on where the hell does our current supply of money go on transportation? If it wasn't for the initiative process, we wouldn't have "real" audits being done. The legislature passed some really "limp wristed" legistlation that was just window dressing, but the people got I-900 and now there is some strength to the auditor to truely go after waste and do something about it. Now I hope we actually get something out of it.......
Gabriel is spot on. Eyman is used by the media as a laughingstock to preclude serious discussion on issues of taxation. He is a convenient buffoon. When the subject of taxation policy comes up, Eyman is invariably invoked (in a gorilla suit), especially by the Times and PI. The real problem with that is those media organs completely support the current state ruling party, and it loves to tax. Instead of any serious debate about tax measures, or the absence of limits on taxes, or reducing the potential for abuse of taxing authority, the JOA partners just point to Eyman as the opposition to whatever Sims/Nickels/Gregoire wants as far as new taxes go.
BTW, in case anyone is interested, Postman has a blog up on this subject now. I tried posting a comment like this there, and I got a notice that the "owner of the site" was reviewing my post for suitability, and then it never got posted. The Seattle Times filters Postman's blog, and content like this posting is not acceptable to it.
NOTE to those who are constantly wailing that because of tax cuts, "infrastructure is being gutted:"
There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING preventing you from picking up a pen and dropping a check in the mail to Olympia, Salem, Sacramento, D.C., etc. to pay more. In fact, if you feel you're not paying enough, I believe you have a moral obligation to put your money where your mouth is.
Oh, I forgot. Liberals are only generous with OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY. My mistake.
When the arrogant politicos ignore and mock their own constituency (remember the various letters we've all received and Stefan has posted?? I do.), the initiative process become our only voice.
Sadly, the beholden judiciary decides with those arrogant politicos that our voices are undeserved to be heard.
24. O.K. Dengle you ask for it This is how Tacoma budgeted these revenues. From the eleven cents State Gas Tax revenues, I find $64,053 budgeted for Tacoma Dome Area Streetscape, $350,000 budgeted for Business District Beautification, $981,952 budgeted for Business district Capitol Projects, $525,00 for Citywide Streetscape Program, $425,000 for Citywide Trees, $36,000 for Tree Disease Control, Millions for matching funds to pay for Alley rehabilitation, $200,000 for Historic Water Ditch Trail, $50,000 for Pipeline Trail, $50,000 for Prairie Line Trail, $350,000 to reconstruct sidewalk which is the abutting property owner's responsibility, $50,000 for Spanish Steps Rehabilitation, $76,486 for Public Safety, $26,747 for Stadium Street Banners (project in close out phase, so God only knows how much has already been spent on this), $198,384 for Whapato Park Street Lighting. Now are you ready to be either sick or infuriated - I cannot find not one thin dime budgeted for residential street maintenance. The City somewhat confirms that this is the case, but those of you with experience in dealing with Tacoma City Hall know...getting a straight answer from anyone there is practically impossible.
Where the "send a message" to legislators was probably valid when the first car tab initiative went through it seems the initiative process has been hijaaked by narrow interest groups and if any message is being sent is that elected officials monkey with initiatives at their own peril.
Remember all we're a republic and enable our elected representative to act on our behalf so that we don't all have to come home from work and vote on a thousand different things each night.
To those that think our individual politicians are to blame....I tend to disagree. You can vote them out with a local majority. It's when a hundred of them get together and don't do your business that you get most upset. Ask yourself if they questions they're pondering affect all or most Washintonians or some smaller group or faction. Ideally, we want them in Olympia the few months out of the year to deal with statewide issues that affect us all.
We should want them there to deal with the myriad of complex issues, to distill it all down into a comprehensive body of laws that are the most fair for all Washingtonians.
And, that applies to D, R, and other.
Meanwhile the intitative process seems distorted to the point that it promises citizens shiny things and immediate gratification at the expense of the long haul. I say, resist the urge.
26. Well, no matter how you look at initiative, it is totally necessary thing, and I wish there is an initiative process at the federal level to be able to stop things like prescription drug benefit. Say all you want whether initiatives are converative or not, but it is the only way for people to balance out the tyranny of the elected.
I wish SP came with a handy barf bag like on an airplane cause I need one now.
28. If you really want to know what this truely illustrates it is the degree to which the Tacoma News Tribune covers for these clowns. I have done the research for their stupid, lazy, incompetent, lying a$$e$ and have sent them inumerable emails plus letters to the editor (with documentation) pointing this out, yet NOTHING. Remember folks, this is the organ of the state that was "shocked" by what came out regarding the former Police Chief/Murderer, Lee Giles, Frugle Gourmet, Jannovitch et all. The list is practically endless. Tacoma/Pierce County government have been and are commonly referred to as the Tacoma Mafia or Pierce County Mafia respectively, and for good reason.
29. Outside of putting "citizen initiatives as the best means by which to enact supposedly conservative policies" in my mouth, since I never said anything like that, I think this is a pretty boring post, Eric.
But I must admit it is your ability to spin fiction by distorting other people's positions that gives it some life support. Certainly it would be better to have a legislature that did not need correction. Eyman is not the MVP because initiatives are inherently better as a means, but because he is the only one accomplishing anything conservative. Eyman alone has cut more taxes in the last nine years than the whole balance of the Republican Party over the last twenty-five. Our Republican Leadership bargains away our freedom and our livelihood and tells us, "We couldn't do any better because Washington State is liberal!" Eyman proves them wrong over and over and over. They couldn't do any better because they are wimps. "Jim King" (a cowardly pseudonym) is a good example. He asserts that the goal of fiscal conservatism is to develop consistent sources of government funding(!) That's laughable. His concept of "conservatism" is as far off base as yours. By that theory the Democrats come up with new programs on which to spend our money and the Republicans raise taxes to balance the budget. It was that philosophy that made us the minority Party for forty years before the Contract With America. They offered the seductions of pork-barrell spending. We offered higher taxes.
The argument that initiatives themselves are somehow not "conservative" reminds me of the liberal arguments I hear regarding abortion and the death penalty - because many "conservatives" oppose the former and not the latter, then we are not being consistent in our beliefs. The point is moot, because it's not about consistency in this case, it's about what's just.
People (especially liberals) also throw around "state's rights" arguments at conservatives when it's convenient for them - they scream states' rights in medical marijuana laws, assisted suicide, etc, but conveniently forget the usurping of states' rights in Roe v Wade and the Texas sodomy case.
So which is it? Is states' rights a "conservative" position or not? If I say yes, do I have to support it in all cases? Of course not. Same with initiatives. I don't believe it's the best way to implement conservative policies either, but it's the best we've got in this state.