I have to confess that it feels odd to be quoting Nancy Reagan. Certainly, I never felt her much-quoted solution to the issue of drug abuse was very useful or helpful. But when it comes to the plethora of issues which Washington voters are now faced with on their general election ballots, "just say no", is actually spot on advice. When I moved from Massachusetts to Washington I was at first very impressed by the citizen initiative process. I loved the idea that ordinary citizens who felt something should be changed have the power to write proposed new laws, collect signatures on petitions in favor of their enactment, then put the new laws to the vote of the people. Government by and for the people, rather than the powerful. Boy was I naive.
One need not live in Washington state very long to become acquainted with Tim Eyman-- a less than honest salesman who is carrying on a very long and very public hate-affiar with Washington state government. Eyman has been caught with his hand in the cookie jar-- for years he insisted that he received no payment for his role in putting "citizen initiatives" on the Washington state ballot. Then it developed that he is indeed paid quite well by the folks he puts the initiatives on for. Sadly, this revelation seemed to do very little to even slow Mr. Eyman's continuing assaults on good government.
When I took civics in elementary school, I seem to recall that "majority rules" is one of the fundamental tenants of a democracy-- that everyone got a say and that the majority opinion carried the day. It seems to me that on both the state and federal level this basic tenant of our social order has been turned upside down. In the US Congress, a determined minority has been able to largely halt the people's business. In California, a requirement that the legislature acheive a super-majority to pass a state budget has crippled the state's ability to respond to the financial crisis. And now here in Washington, Mr. Eyman wants to change the rules so that a 2/3 super-majority is required to pass any tax increase. Democracy was never supposed to be about empowering a minority of citizens to get their way over the marjority.
In addition to Eyman's initiative, Washington voters also face measures sponsored by liquor distributors and liquor retailers and a proposed income tax on high-earners. You don't really need a degree in Economics to know that these first two measures primarily benefit distributors and retailers. The income tax proposal does nothing whatsoever to correct the horrible regressiveness of Washington's taxation system and would benefit only a small minority of Washington voters. And so it goes up and down the ballot. The only initiatives we voters actually get to vote on are the well-funded campaigns who can use paid signature gatherers and then spend huge amounts of money on advertising to buy a vote in their favor. The rights and ideas of citizens honestly don't come into play much at all. So if you are filling out your Washington ballot this week, do yourself a favor and Just Say NO!! to all of the "citizen initiatives".