Washington voters are strange creatures. They dislike liquor but like pot, want to kill murderers, disapprove of using bait while bear hunting, don’t want radioactive waste to cross our borders and gave a huge thumbs up to drinking on Sunday.
It sounds outlandish and contradictory, and it is. But since 1914, the vagaries of voters have been on display through the state’s initiative and referendum process, which allows just about anybody to enact just about any law (see above).
Between 1914 (the first year of signature gathering for initiatives) and 2000, the largest number of initiatives filed in any year was 27, in 1934.
This year, a record 77 initiatives are vying for that coveted ballot. “It’s been a phenomenon in this decade,” says David Ammons, spokesman for Washington’s secretary of state office. In 2003, 60 were filed; the number was 57 in 2008. “Part of that is we see more usage of [the initiative process] when times are tough and people are unhappy with the decisions being made in Olympia.”
It’s a way to release pressure, Ammons says. But apparently everyone’s valve is in a different spot. “They’re all over the map, as you can see this year,” he says.
“You get someone to sign one, you can get them to keep signing.”
Among the contenders, we have an effort to fully legalize marijuana, Initiative 1068, which for the past few months has been largely grassroots and pretty successful at gathering signatures. According to Angela Johnson, the campaign’s Eastern Washington coordinator, even Tim Eyman has expressed surprise at the campaign’s success. And now, as the signature gathering enters the final stretch, some “very influential and deep-pocketed people in politics … want to see I-1068 make the ballot.” The money has landed.
And there’s I-1077, the income tax initiative backed by Bill Gates Sr.
And there’s Eyman’s 14 tax-related initiatives seeking to repeal much of the Legislature’s budget-remedying action.
For each of these initiatives to reach the ballot, every one must collect 241,153 signatures. Liberty Lake resident Christopher Bass is sponsoring nine initiatives this year — mostly in reaction to President Obama’s health care and environmental policies and the state Legislature’s tax increases — and he thinks his odds of collecting the required signatures are “somewhere in the middle.”
“Quite honestly, I have not got a hard count,” he says. “But I imagine we’re a long way from 300,000.”
This weekend, Bass hopes to collect a large share of signatures at what’s being called Washington Initiative Day, an effort to collect signatures for various right-wing initiatives. Organizers are calling the effort statewide, though its Website lists only locations in Spokane and Asotin counties.
Still, Bass is hopeful. “The main problem is getting people exposed to the fact that these exist,” he says. “You get someone to sign one, you can get them to keep signing.”
But back at the secretary of state office, Ammons doesn’t share Bass’s optimism. “Five, six, seven [initiatives] have a shot at making the ballot.”
“They were allowed to file these back in January. … Time is growing short. Many of them are just getting started. Some of them haven’t even begun the process. … We have, what — five weeks, six weeks before they’re due?” But even if just seven make the ballot, that would tie 1914 for the record number of certified ballot initiatives. In addition, the Legislature put three of its own initiatives on the ballot.
“That would be the busiest ballot,” he says. “And the voters pamphlet could be monstrous.”