Voting Rights Under Attack - Ballot measures give voters a strong voice

Maya Valverde
The Olympian

Flawed though it may be, no one -- including elected state legislators -- is about to give up on the initiative process anytime soon.

Tax-cutting guru Tim Eyman has used the initiatives relentlessly to push through popular laws limiting revenue from vehicle fees and property taxes.

These tax laws have ended up on the cutting room floor in local courts, or greatly diminished by counties adding local fees. Municipalities say they need the funds, but how often has a country road been paved unnecessarily because a resident sat on a board somewhere?

Last year, Eyman admitted he lied about skimming off $45,000 and had intended to take another $150,000 of his supporters' contributions. Yet his tax-cutting initiatives continue to be approved by voters, a constant irritation to legislators. They want Eyman and his budget restraints to go away.

Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle, is sponsoring a bill to amend the constitution and eliminate the initiative process. "The initiative system is making the state ungovernable," said Jacobsen. "People don't make a decision until the election. People are running the state off CliffsNotes."

A majority of Republicans favor the tax-cutting initiatives of the last decade, so they will continue to oppose their elimination.

Sen. Pam Roach, R-Sumner, chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Operations Committee, said she had no plans to have the Jacobsen bill heard. "It's a matter of priority," said Roach. "If I had the time, I would hear the bill and nail it to the floor."

Only 58 initiatives have been qualified and approved by voters since the process started in 1912. Legislators don't like year-to-year serial decision-making from voters with no accountability.

"If we had initiatives in the national process, we would be cowering before bin Laden," Jacobsen said.

I doubt it. There is merit to the argument that initiatives create legislation when our elected representatives refuse to do so.

One example is the medical use of marijuana initiative, approved by a whopping majority of voters in 1998 along with six other states to help relieve the suffering of long-term patients and the dying.

While California is facing enormous scrutiny through the federal courts, Washington has so far avoided attacks from drug federalistas because the language of RCW 69.51(a) does not create distribution (as does California's law), only personal use and growth by documented patients.

Meanwhile, Oregon collects fees -- $600,000 in 2001 -- for regulating the use of medical marijuana.

Sen. Jean Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, wants to do something similar here. "Physicians can't prescribe, or even recommend," she said. "We want to avoid what's happening in California." The law states that a patient may possess a 60-day supply, a gray area that needs definition, Kohl-Welles said.

Medical use of marijuana became law by the will of the voters, and instead of taking from, it may actually add to state coffers, while helping lots of people who need it.

As Green Cross' Ric Smith said, "It's an amazing thing what the initiative process has provided for patients, because the government won't," he said.

Maya C. Valverde, business manager for an Olympia law firm and active writer, can be reached at


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