Is it time for Tim Eyman to sail off into the sunset?
His latest initiative took a drubbing at the Nov. 3 general election, finishing with about 42 percent of the vote, his second defeat in two years.
Eyman, who bills himself as the defender of beleaguered taxpayers, has a pretty dismal track record.
Of the 15 statewide ballot measures proposed by Eyman since the introduction of Initiative 695 in 1999, three have been declared unconstitutional, four have been rejected by voters, five failed to qualify for the ballot, and just three inititiatives were passed into law. It’s true that legislators passed laws to parallel some of Eyman’s initiatives that were approved by voters but were declared constitutional.
That’s not much to brag about. But it hasn’t stopped Eyman from seizing the public spotlight and trying year after year to score a victory with the electorate.
His recent record — since 2003 — is inauspicious at best.
• 2003: Initiative 807 to require a two-thirds vote for all tax increases — failed to qualify.
• 2003: Initiative 864 to cut property taxes by 25 percent — failed to qualify.
• 2004: Initiative 892 to legalize slot machines off tribal reservations — rejected by voters.
• 2004: Initiative 900 to begin a state performance audit program — passed by voters.
• 2006: Referendum 65 which would have to repealed the state’s new civil rights protections for gays and lesbians — failed to qualify for the ballot.
• 2006: Initiative 917 to cap motor vehicle registration fees at $30 a year — failed to qualify.
• 2007: Initiative 960 which required lawmakers or voters to reach a two-thirds majority to raise taxes — passed by voters.
• 2008: Initiative 985 to reduce traffic congestion by opening up high occupancy vehicle lanes during off-peak hours and making other transportation improvements — rejected by voters.
• 2009: Initiative 1033 to cap tax revenue generated through property taxes — rejected by voters.
The performance audit measure — which was rightfully passed by voters five years ago — was Eyman’s greatest contribution to governance in Washington state.
Voters seem oblivious to his track record. And contributors continue to write checks to his various causes – money that has ended up in Eyman’s own pockets.
When he burst on the scene with Initiative 695 in 1999, Eyman billed himself as a mere watch salesman from Mukilteo intent on controlling an out-of-control state bureaucracy. He told all who would listen that he worked for free – laboring in the name of good government and restrained taxes. He repeatedly told reporters and others that he was not in the initiative business to make money.
That proved to be a bold-face fabrication.
In February 2002 Eyman admitted to “the big lie.”
After denying – yet again – on a Friday night that he wasn’t pocketing campaign contributions, Eyman admitted on a Sunday afternoon that he had taken $45,000 in campaign contributions as salary and had intended to divert another $157,000 that year.
“It was the biggest lie of my life” that no donations had made their way into his personal bank account, Eyman said at the time. “The fact is, it is true that I made money in past campaigns and planned to make money on future campaigns.”
Eyman admitted that he set up a for-profit consulting firm, Permanent Offense Inc., to have “a way to cover the fact that I was making money sponsoring initiatives, and none of my co-sponsors knew that was the case.” He added: “I want to continue to advocate issues, and I want to make a lot of money doing it.”
Money as a motivating factor? Hmm.
After the admission, Eyman disappeared from the public spotlight for a short period of time, but returned with gusto to champion one ballot measure after another.
And despite back-to-back rejections by voters in 2008 and 2009, Eyman says he’s not going anywhere. “We’re kind of like rain in Seattle,” Eyman said recently. “You might not like it, but you might as well get used to it, because we’re not going anywhere.”
Even his opponents don’t hold out much hope that Eyman will disappear anytime soon.
They understand that Eyman enjoys the public spotlight too much to stop being a pain in the backsides of politicians.
Opponents to Eyman’s Initiative 1033 raised nearly $3.5 million to point out its flaws.
It’s clear that Eyman overstretched on I-1033 when he tried to limit tax revenue for local governments instead of just focusing on state government.
And that, Eyman said, was the lesson he learned from the drubbing he took at the ballot box on Nov. 3.
“The next initiative that we’ll do is going to address the state government only, and it’s going to try and say, ‘Hey guys, don’t even think about raising taxes,’ ” he said.
That will have some popular appeal – as most of Eyman’s ballot measures do.
The question is whether taxpayers are paying attention to his track record, whether donors will continue to pay for marginal success and whether voters have come down with a case of “Eyman fatigue.”
Many politicians have.