Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Frank Watson
Gazette Columnist 

Grass Roots Democracy


October 11, 2018

'Tis the season. We have four seasons in Eastern Washington: basketball season, dry season, fire season, and political season. We are slowly making it through the season for politics. As bad as it seems, it could be worse. We could be in a presidential election year. National politics are depressing. Issues don’t seem to matter. Am I the only one who is tired of having my favorite TV program interrupted by candidates bashing each other? If this continues into Dancing With the Stars, I am going to scream. How many good people are we willing to sacrifice on the altar of partisan politics? The Kavanaugh confirmation hearings were a disgraceful insult to the democratic process. Real democracy happens at the grass roots level.

The folks that have been hanging around the doors to Safeway and Walmart all summer collecting signatures for ballot initiatives illustrate democracy at its finest. To many Washingtonians, initiatives are synonymous with Tim Eyman. He is the guy who got us $30 car tags and continues to sponsor more initiatives than anyone else I know. Most folks either love him or hate him. His detractors say he is determined to, “Undermine our representative democracy.” Whatever else he does, he gets the people stirred up and gets them involved. I don’t love him. Some of his initiatives are just plain stupid, but he gets voters riled up, and I think that is great. The people should be involved. That’s what democracy is all about.

There were 25 pages of initiatives proposed for this year’s election; I counted 752. None of Mr Eyman’s proposals were among the four that successfully navigated the process to make it to the ballot. Thankfully, only two have sufficient funding to run TV ads. I-1631 is trying to establish a fee on carbon emissions. Governor Inslee sponsored a carbon tax last year as I-732 promising that all proceeds would go to public school education. Voters realized that past promises to fund education from new taxes were hollow, so they voted it down. I-1631 is the same idea in the same package but tied with a different bow. It is now a fee instead of a tax and carries the promise that all income from the fee will go to support clean energy. In political speak, that means that taxes currently going to clean energy will be redirected to the Governor’s pet projects, such that clean energy funding will remain constant.

The other well-funded initiative is I-1634. The current laws that prohibit state sales tax on groceries do not apply to local governments. Some Washington cities have taken advantage of this oversight, and the soft drink industry is trying to cut this off at the pass before every town levies a tax on bottled water and cola. Tax free groceries benefit the poor much more than the rich, so those who want to “sock it to the rich” need to tread lightly on this one.

There were 748 initiatives that didn’t make it to the ballot. I applaud those who were out there in supermarket parking lots trying to get 259,622 voters to support their issue. That’s how many valid signatures are required. I wonder where that number came from? All their paperwork had to be collected, validated, and submitted before my son’s birthday four months before the election. We need discussion on the proximately of cannabis stores to schools. We need to debate tax issues. We need to debate possible solutions to homelessness and gun violence. Initiative supporters were out there generating discussion on all these issues. If you stopped to listen to their spiel as you were on your way to your car in the Walmart parking lot, you were involved. Even if it was only for a few moments, you were involved. We need more voter involvement. I salute those who are involved in grass roots democracy.

(Frank Watson is a retired Air Force Colonel and a long time resident of Eastern Washington. He has been a free lance columnist for more than 18 years.)


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