February 13, 2008
Another Shot at the Initiative Process Brewing in Olympia

In case you missed it, the Legislature's sniping at the initiative process is continuing in Olympia. HB 2601, currently moving through the House, places new restrictions on signature gathers, including the invalidation of legally collected signatures if the paid signature gatherer fails to follow the law's provisions.

Media coverage indicates a clear anti-Tim Eyman mood to the bill. Yet, editorial boards are weighing in against the measure (examples here and here).

For my own part, I'm on record as not being the biggest fan of some of Tim Eyman's stunts and believe the initiative process has been over-utilized in recent years, increasingly by interest groups. But this bill is the wrong response. Leaders in Olympia might instead trying addressing some of issues at hand that keep prompting the passage of assorted initiatives once they get on the ballot.

Posted by Eric Earling at February 13, 2008 07:48 AM | Email This
1. The Legislature is on a attack of the Washington voter's.

Posted by: George on February 13, 2008 08:11 AM
2. Eric, I hope this DOES pass, and I hope that they attach an emergency provision to it. :-) What better way to show the real feelings of the Dems toward the Constitution and the democratic process?

Posted by: pudge on February 13, 2008 08:25 AM
3. Where have all the grown-ups gone?

Posted by: swatter on February 13, 2008 08:43 AM
4. The initiative process is the only rein citizens have on politicians gone wild.

Posted by: Snuffy on February 13, 2008 08:47 AM
5. Heard this yesterday on local news. Even if the real feelings of the Dems toward the Constitution and the democratic process are shown...will anyone in Seattle really care? Remember, the Dems control the state legislature and the governor's office. And the only reason this is so is because of Western voting. This isn't likely to change soon.

Posted by: ekevlar on February 13, 2008 08:58 AM
6. On this issue we agree. It is ridiculous to attach requirements on signature gatherers. The metric is the "signature" not the "gatherer."

I'm a strong supporter of the right of the people to the initiative process.

Posted by: Timothy on February 13, 2008 09:05 AM
7. But, .... we live in a Democracy, ... or so I've been told.

I treat initiatives three different ways. Those I beleive are so stupid that I won't sign the petition; those I disagree with, but feel it is important to vote on, though I would vote "No"; and those that I support and will vote for. I believe the majority of voters in the State probably operate the same way.

Why are the Democrats (majority party) so afraid of the initiative process?

First, it takes someone time and money to write the initiative. Then they have to go out and get, in most cases, more than 250,000 signatures.

They must gather the signatures and turn them in by a specific date in order to be validated and make it on the ballot.

When the SoS checks the names, there must be over a quarter of a million unique, valid signatures of registered voters.

Once they have done all of this work, just to get on the ballot, then the initiative sponsors must convince a majority of the voters in the State to approve the initiative.

Interfering with the right to petition to try to get an initiative on the ballot is disgusting. Who cares about who gathers the signatures, or how many might be "made up"? Those are all filtered and rejected by the SoS. If enough are disqualified, then the measure doesn't make the ballot. If there are enough valid signatures to allow it on the ballot, then "We, the People" have spoken. When the election occurs, it becomes the final word from "We, the People".

Out of curiosity, how many of the legislators supporting HB 2601 have read these portions of our Constitution?

Article 1

SECTION 1 POLITICAL POWER. All political power is inherent in the people, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and are established to protect and maintain individual rights.

SECTION 4 RIGHT OF PETITION AND ASSEMBLAGE. The right of petition and of the people peaceably to assemble for the common good shall never be abridged.

SECTION 5 FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Every person may freely speak, write and publish on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right.

Doesn't their job include upholding and supporting the Constitution? How can they read these simple, plain words and determine that they have the right to pass laws abridging the right of petition?

Posted by: SouthernRoots on February 13, 2008 09:19 AM
8. SouthernRoots @ #7:

Check out section 24 as well. No one seems to care about Constitutions anymore.

Posted by: Andrew Brown on February 13, 2008 09:25 AM
9. Timothy: I would have been surprised if you'd said otherwise. There are two basic kinds of Democrats we normally see in the political process: the ones who want power, and the kinds who are effectively liberal and so just naturally fit in the Dem party. You appear to be the latter, so you are going to reject this most illiberal of attempts to seize more political power.

Posted by: pudge on February 13, 2008 09:31 AM
10. Maybe somebody could hurry up and pass an initiative to rid the country of Bushstink.

McCain needs it very very quickly.

Posted by: Jim on February 13, 2008 09:34 AM
11. Spot on Eric!
The Dems and their one-party rule have become a self-licking ice cream cone.
When 250,000 people bother to stop and sign a petition, they send a very strong message. Olympia had better start listening instead of shooting the messengers.

Posted by: Diogenes on February 13, 2008 09:35 AM
12. A great example of just how insular it is within a solid blue Legislature in Olympia. Even Democrats in the general public don't agree with this overreach, but since when have any of our Legislators been at all aware of their constituents? They don't have to give a rip about constituents because they know they'll get knee jerk blue voters to support them.

So instead of taking care of the state's business, roads, infrastructure, etc. we get insular legislation designed to keep power inside the Olympian cocoon, and attacks on plastic bags.

Posted by: Jeff B. on February 13, 2008 09:50 AM
13. ..but the leaders in Olympia refuse to address the issues at hand. Hence, Eyman's initiatives are needed. Wishing the legislature would do something doesn't seem to make them do it. If they will properly address the issues, there would be less need for initiatives. The legislature itself is to blame for non-action, and for ignoring the will of the people.

Posted by: Michele on February 13, 2008 09:51 AM
14. It's kinda funny that the Dems in this state care far more about gathering signatures for an initiative than they do about verifying voters in an election.

Does the person that asks me to sign the voter log at a polling place also sign that book and provide their address?

Does the person that opens the mail-in ballots at Election Central sign the ballot to show that they were the one that put the ballot into the scanner?

Do organizations like ACORN have to sign the back of every voters registration form that they submit when registering new voters?

Posted by: Smoley on February 13, 2008 10:45 AM
15. Democracy is a two-edged sword. Some initiatives work against individual rights, while others tend to support them. But the goal here is not democracy, the goal is liberty. Democracy is just a tool. It is a way to limit the power of government, and keep politicians from getting out of control.

Churchill said a number of wise things about democracy, which I will paraphrase:

Democracy is the worst form of government, unless you consider all of the others that have been tried from time to time.

The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.

I've also heard that Ben Franklin said:

Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. Liberty is a well-armed sheep contesting the results.

Ken Schooland, in his great book, "The Adventures of Johathan Gullible; a free market odyssey" wrote a chapter called "The Democracy Gang" which shows democracy for what it really is: the rule of the mob.

F. Bastiat points out that there is nothing that the majority may of right do, that is not allowed to an individual. If an individual may not steal or murder, then neither may a majority.

In fact, the very purpose of rights are to protect the minority from the tyrrany of the majority. For me, it is all about individual rights. The will of the majority carries no weight with me in moral terms.

I think that the liberals are using democracy to achieve socialism, and to erode the idea of individual rights. I think that GW Bush plays into their hands when he promotes the idea of exporting democracy to the middle east. He should instead be promoting liberty here at home.

We do not live in a democracy. We live in a Republic with deomocratic elements. Those democratic elements are not the goal, they are merely tools to help us maintain our liberty.

But when the people no longer value liberty, and no longer want to take responsibility for their own lives, then we will lose our liberty. And this is what has been happening for the last 100 years.

Tim Eyeman's initiatives have all had the aim of limiting government, and I have supported and voted for every one since I moved to WA in '94. But other initiatives, like the smoking ban and others, have eroded our individual rights. The reason for conservatives to support the initiative process is not because democracy is good, but because the initiative process has caused more good than harm to the cause of liberty and individual rights.

The legislature should not violate our liberty by invading the privacy of signature gatherers. This is merely a power grab by corrupt politicians and elitists who think they can run our lives better than we can.

Conservatives should not promote democracy. They should promote liberty.

Posted by: Bruce Guthrie on February 13, 2008 10:46 AM
16. Bruce, well said.

However, the only time I ever disagreed with more liberty was the smoking ban. I never figured out how people could reconcile smoking as a liberty when smoke wafts over in to other people's faces, jeopardizing their liberty. Smoke is an example of where one person's liberty infringes on another's liberty with unacceptably vague boundaries. I agreed with the principle that it was wrong for government to tell people when and when not to smoke, but I don't see how that corrects the problem of a smoker in a public restaurant infringing on a non-smoker in the same public restaurant. Thus smoke is not a good example of liberty. What should have been proposed was a provision to allow for some businesses to opt out if they could establish the consent of all patrons, owners, workers, etc. on their willingness to be subject to smoke. As it was, that was already happening with many businesses posting signs as "smoke free" businesses.

Smoke is not free speech. Smoke is the equivalent of yelling "fire" in a crowded theatre. Yes, it is an example of speaking one's mind, but it affects others in a way that may be damaging and at minimum is a gross nuisance that they have no way of limiting if they are to enjoy the same public venues. Similarly, we don't allow our neighbors to blare their music at 3:00 AM.

And indeed, it's precisely the vague concepts that the left seizes upon to promote their authoritarianism and statism. The picked smoke because it is a vague threat to others, with vague boundaries. They pick climate because it's obviously something that fluctuates and that we have little control over, so why not propose a massive amount of legislation and economic policy over something vague. They pick children because no one knows how a child will grow up, and no one wants to vaguely limit or hurt a child.

This is why we have language and rule of law. It's to be precise about definitions, boundaries, property rights, and to limit encroachment on freedom.

Vagary is an enemy of liberty.

Posted by: Jeff B. on February 13, 2008 11:33 AM
17. In looking over the bills this bunch of clowns have cooking in Olympia (greek for multi-sphinctered beast) every bill costs, regulates or restricts in some fashion or another.
The only idea it seems they haven't come up with is making it a crime to cross the street without using the sidewalk. But I'll bet they're working on it.

Posted by: PC on February 13, 2008 11:42 AM
18. Jeff B @ 16, I do not smoke, and I agree that second-hand smoke is yucky. I'm not sure if it really is bad for your health, but it may actually be. I would also prefer that smoking not be allowed in all bars and restaurants. I hate smoky bars. I do not permit smoking in my home or car.


I have no right that there be no smoke in a bar. Restaurants and bars are private property. They are private businesses. The owner has the right to permit or prohibit smoking on his or her premises. If I go in to such an establishment, I have no right to expect smoke-free air. If I don't like the air, it is my right to leave, but I have no right to tell the owner what he or she may allow on his or her own property.

If employees don't like the smoke, they are free to get jobs elsewhere.

The idea that there is even one employee who doesn't like smoke who can't get a job elsewhere is purely notional, but on the other hand, there are millions of smokers, and thousands of business owners who's rights clearly are being violated by the smoking ban. This was clearly an example of the tyrrany of the majority violating the rights of the minority.

This initiative even prohibits private smoking clubs! It drives smokers out on the sidewalks where I have to walk by them!

I defend rights that I do not exercise, such as the right to smoke marijuana, the right to hire a prostitute, the rights of gays and lesbians to marry each other, the right to gamble, and the right to smoke in a bar where the owner permits it. I defend the rights of the minority on principle. Unfotunately, those principles make me unpopular.

Calling bars and restaurants "public accomodations" was a way for the left to violate our rights to property and association. It may have been a well-meaning attempt to protect us from ourselves or to engineer a better society via force, but it was inconsistent with the principles that America was founded on, and in the long term it is ineffective at achieving the stated goals.

The power of the initiative is a two-edged sword. Some initiaitives are good, because they defend our individual rights, but some are bad, because they violate them. On balance, I think they are more likeley to be good than bad, but this is only true because of values held by the people. As these values erode, the net benefit of the power of the initiative may become negative.

But in the mean time, three cheers for Tim Eyeman!

Posted by: Bruce Guthrie on February 13, 2008 12:55 PM
19. Oddly enough (and it DOES seem odd) I absolutely agree with Bruce's take.

Jeff asks "I never figured out how people could reconcile smoking as a liberty when smoke wafts over in to other people's faces, jeopardizing their liberty."

People exercise their liberty by making the decision to work or patronize in a smoking establishment. You see, there is no requirement to do either.

I join with Bruce in that I am not and never have been a smoker; smoking has played a role in the deaths of my parents and older brother (died of a stroke at age 53 two years ago... with no other risk factors) and I personally believe that smoking is an asinine habit.

But the issue isn't the habit. The issue is the decision as to patronage or employment at a facility the engages in an otherwise not only legal habit, but a habit that gains this state hundreds of millions into it's general fund, rather hypocritically, I might add.

Liberty is in our individual choice when it matters. Democracy is the imposition of rules or laws that can violate the liberty of the individual, as long as that imposition reflects the will of the people.

Posted by: Hinton on February 13, 2008 02:20 PM
20. Most people under the age of 55 right now would prefer Web based voting more than any other method.

The moment we can provide the security for that, it's only a matter of time to moving all voting directly to the People.

Posted by: John Bailo on February 13, 2008 03:00 PM
21. Hinton/ Bruce,

I see where you guys are arguing, and I agree in the principled sense. That's why I said that there should have at least been some provision in the 2005 law to allow private property and private business owners to opt out. Even better, there could have simply been a law requiring signage, much like good food labeling rules that we have in place for packaged foods. That way, people could still choose their own poisons. So each establishment would be clearly signed as either smoking or non-smoking, and then people could choose accordingly, just like they do when they decide to buy potato chips with more or less far content. As I indicated above, many restaurants had already voluntarily opted for such a policy, and I mostly frequented only those restaurants and bars.

That said, I still think you miss my point. Here's a scenario. Let's say that a restaurant owner is ambivalent on smoking and that is his right within a respectable limited governement. And let's say I go in to his restaurant to eat, and there are no smokers. Everything is fine. Then let's say a smoker walks in just as my food is served and decides to light up at the table next to me. And let's say the restaurant owner does not want to get involved, and the smoker won't agree to a polite request to move or stop smoking. (BTW, this happened to me in a Seaside, OR restaurant in August of 2004) Do I need to compromise my freedom of selecting a smoke free place to eat because now as smoker has arrived? You see, smoke does not respect boundaries, so now, in order to satisfy your conditions of allowing a restaurant owner to do as he pleases on his private property, I have to leave in order to have my freedom to eat without smoke wafting in to my meal, my eyes, etc. simply because someone else wants their freedom to smoke. A market drive libertarian solution would be for the owner to recognize both parties as customers and to try and accomodate both, but an owner is under no oblibation to do so in a space that is effectively public in that two parties with competing and overlapping interests may exist.

Smoke is a special case, like yelling fire when there is no fire, or very loud music. Would you also tolerate restaurants being free to allow very loud music to be played from personal boom boxes of any of their partrons who so choose? Even if there is not a direct safety threat of permanent hearing loss due to the decibel level of the loud music, there may be other patrons who now must change their earlier intended freedom to accommodate the new overriding freedom of another.

That's my point, I have no problem with restaurant owner's being free from state interference, but that does not change the boundless nature of smoke or loud noise and how that lack of boundaries presents a situation where it is impossible to have two sets of individual freedom accommodated without overlap.

Yes, using the force of law to settle this problem is tyranny of the majority, and in the libertarian sense, that offends me. But if my eyes are watering profusely when I decide to go out to eat, even despite my best attempts to select a non-smoking environment in advance, I'm comfortable sacrificing one isolated case of liberty where freedoms do not stay comfortably within boundaries.

And to be clear, if we outlined the exact same scenario with alcohol, and I would have no problem with it at all, because if I don't want to drink, but the guy in the booth next to me does want to drink, there is no overlap.

Do you get it? Smoke is not a well bounded freedom, even if it exists within the realm of business ownership and operation without state interference.

Posted by: Jeff B. on February 13, 2008 04:12 PM
22. I wonder if the Dems could come up with 250,000 signatures in 8 weeks for an initiative to get rid of initiatives?
I doubt it, and that should tell Olympia something.

Posted by: Diogenes on February 13, 2008 04:21 PM
23. When they pass this initiative attack, it will be sent straight to the courts, and it will have it's day in court.

They also have a 62 Billion dollar planned tax for healthcare.

Now if it takes 62 Billion new taxes plus all the other taxes spent and collected on healthcare in this state, it will be close to 100 Billion.

100 Billion times 50 states and you have 5 trillion plus for Hillary Care.


I hope you all got your 18% pay hike like Gregoire did for the last two years.

Pigs at the public trough!

Posted by: GS on February 13, 2008 05:12 PM
24. Jeff B, I sympathize with the victim in the situation you mention @ 21, but I believe that the cost to liberty of legislating smoking in private bars and restaurants outweighs the rights of customers to not be "smoked at." I think that when we expect governments to solve little problems like these for us, instead of developing the diplomatic skills to deal with them on our own, we abdicate responsibility. With liberty, comes responsibility.

While I agree with you that in your situation, the non-smoler has been harmed (very mildly) by the smoker, the government can not save us from every little inconvenience. We need to solve these problems for ourselves. I'll go further: when the government steps in to prevent us from having these kinds of minor problems, it builds walls between us. It deprives us of the opportunity to get to know our neighbors and fellow citizens. It erodes our ability to accomodate each other. The loss of neighborliness in our cities is a direct result of too much government. Demanding that government solve these minor problems for us has the effect of infantilising us.

I'd say that if the restaurant owner won't help you out with this rude smoker, then you should stop patronizing the restaurant.

Limited government means taking some more responsibility for our own civil discourse. The result is a stronger civil society, and better relations between people. Government is almost always the problem, not the solution.

The problem was being dealt with very well by the free market before this liberty-encroaching initiative passed. There were non-smoking restaurants and bars a-plenty.

But have I mentioned I love the Eyeman initiatives? Initiatives are a mixed bag.

Posted by: Bruce Guthrie on February 13, 2008 09:17 PM
25. I fail to understand why people keep arguing about the public smoking issue. It went to a vote of the people and the people said ban it. Isn't this the American way? What's the problem? I smoked for 15 years and lost part of my lung function as a result. Hey, you want to ruin your health have at it, but don't expect me to line up behind you and say you have the right to ruin my health in the process. Smoking is nothing but a crutch for people who were never properly weaned off the tit.

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