Thursday, January 20, 2011

If we can't get rid of 'em…

…at least we can get control of 'em. It's my conviction that whatever value the initiative process had as a populist reform has been lost in the era of full time initiative shops and paid signature gatherers. The impulse behind modern initiatives is often more profit than populism.

Repeal of the process would require an amendment to the state constitution and would involve a risky and expensive election if it could clear the legislative barriers to the ballot in the first place. The best immediate path forward isn't repeal, but reform through regulation. This sounds like a good start...
State Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-West Seattle, is sponsoring a bill this session that would place new requirements on the ballot-initiative process aimed at reducing the chances of fraud in paid signature-gathering.

Some highlights of the Senate Bill 5297 include:
· Paid signature gatherers would need to register with the Secretary of State; failure to register would incur a fine.
· Those convicted of fraud, forgery or ID theft would be prohibited from gathering signatures in Washington for five years.
· The initiative filing fee would increase from the current $5 to $500, with a $450 refund if the measure qualifies for the ballot. The $500 fee would be waived if the initiative was filed with 1,000 valid signatures.
· The affidavit on the back of petitions must be signed by the signature gatherer, attesting that the signatures were collected in accordance with state law. If not, the initiative sponsor would have to pay the cost of checking the validity of every signature.
Tim Eyman, predictably, hates SB 5297. That might be the best reason to support it.

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Anonymous Terry Parkhurst said...

As someone who has worked on two iniatives sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States, I say just let things stay as they are. The timing is not good to use this metaphor, but no one puts a gun to anyone's head to sign these things. (No one but the head honchos got a cent, for the work on those. We were just a bunch of animal lovers following our hearts, so to speak.)

Indeed, when I worked on the first petition for HSUS in 1996 - to ban the use of dogs to hunt cougars (the real ones, not older women looking for younger guys or grads of WSU) - sometimes people who were opposed came by; there were some interesting discussions. One guy told me that "people who raise dogs to hunt are people who look just like you; took that as a compliment of sorts, translating to "you're a regular guy."

(This was before the complete polarization of America, circa 2004-2010, and after that of the late 1960s.)

Yep, it's galling that some people can actually make a living simply heading up campaigns to file initiatives. But it is, after all, a free country.

The key thing is to ensure that the word gets out who is funding initiatives, when it is more than just folks sending in a few bucks via a check. Last year's major full court push by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and other out-of-state concerns comes to mind.

But then, some people also consider the HSUS what the late George Wallace might have called "outside agitators." Democracy is a messy business, as Wintson Churchill once said.

10:12 PM  
Anonymous Terry Parkhurst said...

Typo in last post, due to tired eyes and poor copy editing: first sentence should read,"As someone who has worked on two initiatives for the Humane Society of the United States..."

10:14 PM  

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