Eyman bashers tacitly concede his ideas are popular
The News Tribune
Olympia, WA - Tim Eyman has long been fortunate in his opponents,
who have become so obsessed with the Merry Prankster of the anti-tax
initiative that they can't think straight. There's just something
about the guy that provokes an overreaction.
Most recently, as reported in The News Tribune, representatives of
a public employees union phoned a warning to Pierce County residents
that initiative signature gatherers might be identity thieves in disguise.
To bolster their credibility, the warnings came from a representative
of the Washington State Council of Police Chiefs and Sheriffs, a group
that ought to know better.
(Presumably, they had fewer worries a few years ago when they backed
a successful million-dollar initiative campaign to give police officers
and firefighters more control of their pension system.)
Such bone-headed tactics magnify Eyman's clout. Remember Gary Larson's
"Far Side" comic, featuring a deer with the "bummer
of a birthmark" target-shaped pattern on his fur? Eyman moves
through the political forest with a target on his forehead, rarely
surfacing without drawing fire. For him, though, it' s a boon, not
a bummer, guaranteeing him an endless loop of media attention. And
the unions continue to play into his hands.
Americans historically back the underdog, the populist champion battling
entrenched power. From William Henry Harrison's Log Cabin campaign
to the rolled-up shirtsleeves of Howard Dean, an appeal to the "outs"
has been a fixture in American politics, often waged without irony
by scions of wealthy families. The current presidential race features
a pair of blue-denimed bluebloods, candidates with patrician pedigrees
and Ivy League college degrees, each casting himself as the hero of
the common man.
In this state, voters worship at the populist altar with fundamentalist
fervor. Example: When Gary Locke vetoed the Cajun primary, erasing
the option that most resembled our blanket primary, the outcry could
not have been more vocal had he repealed the Bill of Rights.
Locke's veto put in place a responsible alternative, yet strident
populists - and that end of the spectrum is dangerously overcrowded
- condemned him as a Tool of the Party Bosses. (Odd capitalization
is a movement staple.)
Eyman's opponents have also tried to tarnish his image by claiming
he's a false prophet motivated by real profits, a populist pretender
who lines his pockets with campaign contributions. With his recent
announcement that he would be paying himself $3,100 a week through
the signature-gathering phase of one of his two property tax campaigns
- a plan to expand nontribal gambling and use the increase in gambling
taxes to cut property taxes - Eyman again made the news and editorial
His supporters surely don't mind; they've rallied around his flag
before, even after he lied about taking money for his efforts.
When I asked him how he picked $3,100, he said it was arbitrary but
seemed about right. Although Eyman is one of a kind, $3,100 a week
for a part-time job (he does have that other initiative) is a lot
of money. Yet the contributions are freely given, and he runs a low-overhead
operation - no big media budget, staff of communications experts or
Unlike others in the business, he has become a brand: People talk
about Eyman initiatives the way they do Chevy trucks (love them or
hate them). "Being an 'Eyman tax-cutting initiative' has a cachet
to it," he says. "My ideas happen to be ones voters like,"
he argues, so there's no need to spend a lot of money on market research
or promotion, which presumably leaves more for, well, him. It's true:
His campaigns, which rely little on media or marketing, are routinely
outspent by the opponents.
Eyman Inc. is the contemporary culmination of a process designed by
rebels to get around the often-frustrating pattern of gridlock and
compromise associated with representative government. Unlike today's
other bypass artists, who at least nod to the legislative process
as they go by, Eyman crashes the civic tea party like a hyperactive
teenager, rejoicing in the broken china he leaves in his wake.
For all that, many Washington voters find him more credible than his
opponents. When he's the target, he wins. By attacking him, rather
than the initiatives, his critics concede the popularity of his ideas
and their lack of a better alternative.
Richard S. Davis, president of the Washington Research Council, writes
for this page every other Wednesday. His columns do not necessarily
reflect the views of the council. Write Davis at email@example.com
or Washington Research Council, 108 S. Washington St., Suite 406,
Seattle, WA 98104-3408.