New Eyman initiative makes it easier for initiatives to qualify for ballot

OLYMPIA -- Initiative guru Tim Eyman launched a new effort Thursday when he dropped off nearly 350,000 signatures for a measure that would make it much easier for initiatives to qualify for the ballot.

Eyman said the initiative will help him and everyone else who wants to sponsor ballot measures in the future.  Initiative 517, if it passes, most important affect would be to extend the amount of time that sponsors can collect signatures. Right now, sponsors have about six months.

If Eyman has his way, that time would double.

“By expanding the time and allowing a year to be able to collect signatures, you are going to have people willing to try initiatives that aren’t necessarily hugely financial but something that they passionately believe in,” Eyman said.

Eyman argues that having only six months to collect signatures forces sponsors to use paid signature gatherers, a staple only wealthy interests can afford. More time would allow more volunteers to be used, Eyman said.

Eyman himself has benefited from wealthy backers to get his initiatives on the ballot in the past, but would like to sponsor even more measures that wouldn’t necessarily attract big money, he said.

“I would love to do a statewide initiative that banned red light cameras from the state of Washington,” he said.  “I can’t possibly do an initiative that does that in the short amount of time there is because we don’t have a lot of money to do an initiative like that.”

Eyman’s critics were quick to pounce on his new effort.

“This is a made up problem, a manufactured, pretend problem, and it’s not a crisis,” said State Rep. Reuven Carlyle.  “No one else is complaining about this issue. The time under state law is absolutely sufficient.”

A new group formed to fight back at Eyman’s latest effort Thursday.

“This is not about grassroots democracy,” said Andrew Villeneuve, Co-Chair of No on I-517.  “This initiative is really about making it easier for Eyman to do petitioning year round, for his associates to do petitioning year round, because that is their business. That is how they make their money.”

A second element of Eyman’s new measure would be to make it a misdemeanor to harass anyone collecting signatures for an initiative, something Eyman and those behind the effort argue is becoming more of a problem.

“If someone is signing a petition, or someone is circulating a petition, you can’t run up and scream at them in the face, you can’t hit them, you can’t push them, you can’t grab their petitions and tear them up,” said Paul Jacob of Citizens in Charge, a Virginia-based group that helped finance the I-517 signature effort.  “This is a very simple thing.”

But critics don’t buy the harassment issue.

“Has there ever been an arrest, has there ever been a serious court case, has there ever been a pattern of abuse?,” asked Carlyle.  “Has any law enforcement in the entire state of Washington indicated that this is a public safety problem?”

The third and final piece of the I-517 would require that any citizen measure, either statewide or local, that received the required number of signatures be voted on. No more legal challenges that keep things from the ballot. Eyman believes the vote should take place and only later worry about the legal and constitutional questions.