Politics Blog

Because the people said so, that's why

"Democracy is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequal alike." -- Plato, "The Republic"

“Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.” -- Friedrich Nietzsche

Tim Eyman and state Senate Republicans have been following the same line of argument during this legislative session: Let's amend the state constitution to require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to raise taxes. Why is this a good idea? Because Washington voters have approved ballot initiatives calling for the two-thirds rule multiple times, only to have the measure deemed unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.

The latest of five initiatives since 1993 requiring the two-thirds vote was I-1185 in November 2012. It passed 64 to 36 percent but was overturned by the Supreme Court in February 2013.

The justices wrote:

"Our holding today is not a judgment on the wisdom of requiring a supermajority for the passage of tax legislation. Such judgment is left to the legislative branch of our government. Should the people and the legislature still wish to require a supermajority vote for tax legislation, they must do so through constitutional amendment, not through legislation."

* * * *

Hence the debate earlier this month in the state Senate. The constitutional amendment did not pass, despite the arguments put forward by Republicans and Eyman.

Eyman was especially intent on the "will of the people" argument. One of his press releases, the day of the Feb. 5 vote, laboriously listed all of the out-of-Seattle Democratic senators who voted against the amendment, despite the fact that a majority of their constitutents voted for Eyman's I-1185.

Eyman's release:

We're sponsoring the 2/3 constitutional amendment initiative, I-1325, because the Legislature refuses to let the people decide. That was illustrated today (Feb. 5).

The state Senate just held a floor vote on SJR 8213 which would refer the 2/3-for-taxes constitutional amendment to the ballot for the voters to decide. All members of the Majority Coalition Caucus trusted the people and voted yes, all members of the minority party voted no. Despite representing districts that overwhelmingly support the 2/3, Democrat senators from outside Seattle refused to respect their voters:

Brian Hatfield: 70% of voters in the 19th District approved I-1185

Steve Hobbs: 69% of voters in the 44th District approved I-1185

Tracey Eide: 69% of voters in the 30th District approved I-1185

Steve Conway: 68% of voters in the 29th District approved I-1185

Mark Mullett: 68% of voters in the 5th District approved I-1185

Annette Cleveland: 67% of voters in the 49th District approved I-1185

John McCoy: 67% of voters in the 38th District approved I-1185

Jim Hargrove: 66% of voters in the 24th District approved I-1185

Andy Billig: 66% of voters in the 3rd District approved I-1185

Karen Keiser: 64% of voters in the 33rd District approved I-1185

Rosemary McAuliffe: 64% of voters in the 1st District approved I-1185

Marko Liias: 63% of voters in the 21st District approved I-1185

Bob Hasegawa: 62% of voters in the 11th District approved I-1185

Maralyn Chase: 61% of voters in the 32nd District approved I-1185

Kevin Ranker: 60% of voters in the 40th District approved I-1185

Jeannie Darneille: 60% of voters in the 27th District approved I-1185

Christine Rolfes: 60% of voters in the 23rd District approved I-1185

Karen Fraser: 54% of voters in the 22nd District approved I-1185

Today's (Feb. 5) senate vote on the 2/3 proves I-1325 is necessary. The only way we're going to get a 2/3 Constitutional Amendment is by qualifying Initiative 1325 for the ballot and letting the people decide. Yesterday (Feb. 4), we officially launched the signature drive for this historic initiative. Petitions were printed, folded, and delivered today to our mailhouse. Our supporters are dowloading petitions from our website and printing them locally. We're off to a fast start.

* * * *

Whatcom Republicans got on board the "will of the people" train on Feb. 8, passing a resolution calling for the two-thirds amendment.

Their one-page resolution refers to "will of the people" three times. (I couldn't find the resolution on the Whatcom Republicans' website, so no link.)

* * * *

Eyman was lobbying the media again on Feb. 6, admonishing Democratic Sen. Steve Hobbs for likening the role of a legislator to his constituents as that of a parent to his child:

Sen. Pam Roach, the prime sponsor, highlighted the fact that her bill simply puts into the constitution what the voters have consistently approved.

Sen. Don Benton correctly pointed out that it's a matter of trusting the people. The Senate's Majority Coalition Caucus members trust them. Steve Hobbs' party doesn't.

The floor speeches by Steve Hobbs' Party were dripping with arrogance and condescension.

Steve Hobbs' party actually said this: "It's easy to fight against taxes. Tax cuts are like candy in a candy store. All the kids want some. And like some parents, we are sometimes in the position of having to say no. I know it sounds ... like we know better. Sometimes it's leadership."

Really? Politicians are "parents?" Citizens are "kids?" It's maddeningly paternalistic.


* * * *

One Olympia reporter, Jim Camden of The Spokesman-Review, stood up for this paternalistic approach to governing in his Spin Control blogOtherwise, you get rule by the unreflective masses, which is something that Plato would have found maddening.

From Camden's blog:

Elected officials used to do more than regurgitate their constituents’ bile. They helped solve problems and explain programs even if they didn’t like them. If an angry taxpayer called to say 'there ought to be a law,' a little research was done to see if one really ought to be drafted. If not, the taxpayer got a call back with an explanation.

* * * *

Consider the $30 car tab initiative, sponsored by Eyman and passed in 1999, only to be overturned by the Supreme Court. The Legislature passed a similar law anyway, adhering to the will of the people.

Since then, city governments, transit agencies and the state ferry system have scrambled for funding. Legislators have spent countless hours trying to find money to keep these systems on life support. The track record of the state ferry system has suffered since the arrival of I-695.

Was it worth all the time and money spent trying to patch up bus and ferry service, and city services, after the people spoke on car tabs?

Plato said democracy was the second lowest form of government, better only than tyranny. The weakness of democracy, according to the ancient Greek philosopher, was that the mass of people is likely to be ignorant on most issues and therefore easily swayed by a good "rhetorician" -- someone who is good at convincing people with his words.

This is where our system of government can step up. It's not a pure democracy, it's a representative democracy or democratic republic. 

Again, from Camden's blog:

Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, said leadership doesn't always consist of giving people what they want, but sometimes of 'saying no, for their own good.' That may sound a bit parental, he admitted, but sometimes legislators have to act like they know better.