Tim Eyman's permanent offensive

By David Ammons
Associated Press

OLYMPIA, WA - 7/8/02 -- In some ways, it was like old times.

Tim Eyman, showman extraordinaire, had managed to assemble the city's
largest press scrum of the year.

Although the initiative king tried relentlessly to use his celebrity --
he used the word "notoriety" -- to draw attention to his latest
initiative, clearly the day's storyline was Tim and his decision to
re-emerge as a political force.

Eyman's world imploded five months ago when he confirmed what critics
had long suspected, that he was using campaign money as a salary fund.
He went underground, and it was anybody's guess whether he'd ever return
to public life.

He's back, or so it seems, this guy who has been called Washington's
real governor because of his ballot-box prowess and his perceived role
as rebel spokesman for the masses.

His return may have been inevitable, given Eyman's passion for politics
and publicity, but his coming-out party was curious.

He was at once circumspect and in a no-comment mode -- and yet also in
full rant as he returned as pitchman for the Permanent Offense
initiative machine.

Although his celebrity was created skillfully over the past six years as
a convergence of man and idea, at this point he wanted to talk only
about his product -- car-tab Initiative 776 -- and not about himself.

Not yet.

Eyman was at full steam -- alliterative sound bites galore -- as he
talked about the virtues of I-776 and the utter awfulness of his
enemies, but still in full retreat as he refused to talk about his sins
or to say what he has in mind for his future.

"It's like a strip tease," he said with a laugh when a reporter was
perplexed by his tiptoeing back into public life, rather than a
full-blown, decisive re-entry.  "Nobody wants me to come out on the
stage full-out naked, so I'll take off a sock or a shirt.  One thing at
a time."

In a later interview, he said " 'The Full Monty' is not always good."

What's next?  Is there redemption for the guy critics called an Elmer
Gantry-style Lie Man?

We shall see.

Eyman hints, but doesn't expressly say, that he'll turn pro, doing
initiatives as a consultant, a la Bill Sizemore in Oregon.

Eyman's exile

After Eyman's spectacular bellyflop in February, he was gently defrocked
by his co-chairmen, who took away his Permanent Offense checkbook, moved
the campaign headquarters to Kennewick, and "benched" him as the

Eyman retreated to his upscale home in Mukilteo to lick his wounds.  The
fall from grace hit him hard.

"I was curled up in fetal position," he recalls.  "For a month, month
and a half, it was really brutal."

He unplugged from the media machine he had created with such success,
not returning phone calls from reporters he has previously called almost

Then came an investigation by the Public Disclosure Commission, which
found that he violated campaign finance reporting laws.

Because the watchdog agency can impose little more than a slap on the
wrist, the case was turned over to the attorney general.  A lawsuit is
pending in Snohomish County.  Civil fines could hit $100,000 or more.

Eyman spent more time with his family, including two young sons, and on
the fraternity watch business he and his wife, Karen, run out of their
garage.  He started running four miles a day, lost some weight and
generally de-stressed his life.

"I learned that one of the greatest art forms is saying nothing," he
says.  "For five months, my mind could be at ease, instead of going a
million miles an hour on 18 different topics."

He remained a Permanent Offense co-chairman -- if muzzled.

He generated a steady stream of e-mails and direct mail pieces to the
group's thousands of backers, using his trademark superheated rhetoric
to appeal for signatures and cash.

He met one-on-one with donors over hot games of pingpong.

Eyman knew that if fundraising lagged and the campaign failed to qualify
for the ballot, he'd be blamed -- and even washed up.

"I thought, 'We're toast if we don't get this one qualified,' " and
Permanent Offense loses its reputation as a successful sponsor of an
annual initiative.

As it turned out, they received over $300,000 -- none of it went to
Eyman personally -- and with the help of paid solicitors, they garnered
an estimated 250,000-plus signatures.

That's more than enough, meaning Eyman is five-for-five qualifying
initiatives in the last four years.

Eyman's b-a-a-a-ck

Seeing vindication for the organization and for himself, Eyman decided
to begin his comeback.

He announced it Monday in an e-mail to his backers, with a Tammy Wynette
request that they stand by their man -- himself, of course.

Eyman said he was bowled over by the outpouring of positive e-mails he
got back.  He faxed a stack to a reporter.  All were varying degrees of
gush; none suggested he go hide in a cave some more.

When he got to Olympia for his coming-out press conference, his bad-boy
celebrity had attracted so many reporters and cameras, they barely fit
in Secretary of State Sam Reed's lobby.

His appearance was more screed than contrition or soft sell, though.

Stage-managed to a fare-thee-well, Eyman and his cohorts lugged in boxes
of signatures for the secretary of state -- always have a visual for the
cameras -- and pretended that the press was there just to report on

Co-chairman Jack Fagan, a crusty retired lawman from Spokane, tweaked
reporters for counting the initiative out because of Eyman's troubles.

His son, Co-chairman Mike Fagan, also from Spokane, said "Our critics
still can't seem to grasp the fact that our efforts have not been about
one man and his ideas."

Eyman was last to speak.

While only obliquely discussing his personal situation, he said the
organization has never been more unified or jazzed.  Supporters "kept
their eye on the ball, stayed focused and made I-776 a reality."

He excoriated his perceived enemies -- "the elitists in government,
business, labor and the ivory towers of the media."

"You are completely out of touch," he crowed.

Some of Eyman's detractors attended the news conference and said he's
remorseless and clueless about the damage he is causing.

"Tim Eyman is probably the first guy who ever stole $200,000 and called
himself the victim," says Christian Sinderman, a Democratic campaign
consultant who said Eyman is "showing renewed commitment to line his own

He called the news conference "a clown show."

John Healey of the environmental group 1000 Friends of Washington said
Eyman's initiative would override the decision of voters in King, Pierce
and Snohomish counties to create the Sound Transit mass transit system
with local taxes.

That would cripple the project, he said.

"For Tim Eyman, a guy who stole money from concerned citizens and then
lied about it, to call Sound Transit out of control is the pot calling
the kettle black," he said.

What next?

Eyman talks about being a political force for years to come, but
declines to give details about what he has in mind, perhaps in large
part because of the pending lawsuit.

If his co-chairmen know, they aren't saying.  They do say that if he's
given a salary, it will be fully disclosed.

Eyman says that after turning in their boxes of signatures the other
day, he and his co-chairmen took their deli food to a nearby park and
began discussing what their 2003 initiative will be.  It will almost
certainly deal with taxes, he indicated.

"The sky's the limit on what we can do in the future, having gotten
through this gauntlet," he said.

Political scientist Todd Donovan, who believes voters care far more
about initiatives' subject matter than about the sponsors, says if Eyman
wants to professionalize the process, creating a for-profit company that
churns out ballot measures, he can never stop, not even for a year.

A permanent campaign always has to have something in the pipeline, to
keep donations rolling in and supporters energized, he says.

Eyman told his news conference that heading up the state's largest
anti-tax organization means "Permanent Offense and Tim Eyman will be a
punching bag for pompous politicians, pious political practitioners and
prima donna press people for years to come."

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