Rarely can the lack of action trigger so much reaction as it did last week when Tim Eyman didn’t do something he so often does — turn in signatures for an initiative.
Word that the professional initiative promoter from Mukilteo failed to qualify his latest anti-tax concoction for the November ballot ignited an outburst online from those in the Puget Sound’s political punditry.
That’s because it’s been a few years since Eyman came up empty in his attempt to legislate through the ballot box.
His critics wistfully hope it is a sign of failures to come and an omen of his eventual exit from Washington’s main stage of politics.
Without question, Eyman has lost his luster and his brand of self-centered politics dressed up as populism no longer gives voice to public angst and anger as it once did.
But one setback isn’t likely to neuter Eyman’s influence — real and perceived — on the electorate or the electeds.
There are reasons for this year’s dud effort. He had a poorly conceived measure and he never rebuilt the bridge to business supporters he blew up last year.
This year’s offering, officially known as Initiative 1325, required lawmakers to endorse a constitutional amendment requiring tax increases be approved by a two-thirds majority and then to put it on the ballot for voters to ratify. If they didn’t, the state sales tax would be slashed from 6.5 percent to 5.5 percent.
That’s a pretty complicated sell for someone with a clipboard standing outside a supermarket trying to get signatures.
And he didn’t have many of those because the usual flow of dollars to pay for them from wealthy individuals, small businesses or major corporations dried up. Eyman’s customary allies hadn’t forgiven him for 2013 when they believe he used some of their donations to push a measure they opposed.
Without that financial aid to hire professional petitioners, Eyman and his reputed “thousands of supporters” were on their own to get it done. And they didn’t.
“We worked really hard, but our signature drive for the 2/3-For-Taxes Constitutional Amendment fell short this year,” Eyman wrote in an email to supporters, without acknowledging how many signatures were gathered. “We’ll just have to work even harder next time.”
What “next time” looks like may determine whether Eyman effectuates a rebound to relevancy.
If he wants to maintain a statewide profile, he’ll need to make amends with his old allies. Without their wallets and their wisdom, Eyman’s ability to continue earning regular paydays will be put at risk.
Or Eyman could change course and focus on pushing ballot measures on the local level. He’s had success in fighting red-light cameras. There is no end to levies and taxes he could consider challenging on behalf of a citizenry which feels overtaxed.
That requires Eyman to rethink his methods, and his motives. Pushing initiatives in cities around the state isn’t easier, and pays a whole lot less than what he’s been doing most of the past 15 years.
If his “thousands of supporters throughout the state” are truly behind him, this may be their only way to ensure there isn’t another November without an Eyman measure on a ballot somewhere.
Jerry Cornfield is a political reporter who covers Olympia for The Daily Herald in Everett, which is among the Washington state newspapers in the Sound Publishing group. He can be contacted at email@example.com.