Washington state’s master of tax limitation by ballot measure is no lefty, and voters of a progressive stripe typically scorn anything with his name on it.
But Tim Eyman of Mukilteo says he’s for the people’s right to vote on ballot measures whether right or left. That is an issue in Spokane, where the progressive group Envision Spokane tried in 2009 and 2011 to pass a “Community Bill of Rights,” and are trying again now.
The 2009 measure has been pared down to four planks. First, “Neighborhood residents have the right to determine the future of their neighborhood.” Second, “The right to a healthy Spokane River and aquifer.” Third, “Employees have the right to constitutional protections in the workplace.” Fourth, “Corporate powers shall be subordinate to people’s rights.” This last is an attempt to nullify the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission.
The Spokane measure is not friendly to business, and Greater Spokane Inc. (the chamber of commerce) has been trying to keep this and another ballot measure, banning corporate lobbying, off the ballot.
The chamber’s argument is that both measures are unconstitutional, and they may well be. But at the state level, the rule is that the people get to vote. If they approve a measure, opponents can ask a court to declare it unconstitutional. But the effort of collecting signatures gives you the privilege of having it on the ballot, and the right of the people to vote on it.
At the local level it hasn’t been that way. Cities often sue to keep measures they don’t want off the ballot. Monroe and Longview did with ballot measures to shut down traffic cameras.
In standing with the Spokane progressives, Eyman is also promoting his next ballot measure, Initiative 517. This measure would declare that at the local level, the collection of enough valid signatures would put a measure on the ballot. No more pre-election challenges.
A related fight is underway in Vancouver. There a proposed ballot measure would stop the city from spending money on any Columbia River Crossing project that includes light rail. Opponents of light rail collected enough signatures to get it on the ballot. The Vancouver Columbian reported that the city is refusing to put it there, arguing that it is unconstitutional.
Eyman would say it is not the city’s business to determine that. It’s the court’s business, and after the people vote.
What is the point of voting on a measure that is unconstitutional?
There is a point. It puts that issue on the table for public discussion–and an issue is not unconstitutional.
The vote is an official measure of public sentiment on it.
The words approved by the people may be invalid as a statute, but they still constitute a thought. A request. A voice. A kind of lobbying by the whole electorate. And there is value in that.
Bruce Ramsey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org