Protect The Local Initiative Process-Why Support WA Initiative 517

by: Posted on: October 08, 2013

Editor’s Note: Envision Spokane offers a preface to their support for I-517: “Eyman [who backs I-517] is no friend of [Envision Spokane’s] Community Bill of Rights and Envision Spokane is no friend of Eyman initiatives. Both parties are very clear on that.” However, they agree on one point…

One of the issues on this November’s ballot is Initiative 517, one of the latest statewide initiatives sponsored by Voters Want More Choices, Tim Eyman’s group. Many progressive groups in Spokane have come out in opposition to I-517, so we at Envision Spokane thought we’d explain why we support it.

Over 100 years ago, initiative power was placed in the hands of the people of the state of Washington, as a measure and check on the people’s elected officials. Those who framed the law realized that those who are elected might not always represent the people’s interests, and that the people deserved a way to make law at the state and local level. The people’s movements of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, throughout the nation, utilized local and state initiatives to push for greater rights for women and people of color, with the suffragists running over 450 state and local measures before the passage of the 19th amendment.

The initiative process is one of the essential tools of participatory democracy, and we have seen it systematically gutted here in Spokane. Initiative 517, if passed, would require that all state and local initiatives, if duly qualified for the ballot, be voted on by the people. No initiative could be successfully sued in a pre-election challenge, as happened in August in Spokane with both the Community Bill of Rights and the Voter Bill of Rights. The initiative process gives citizens a weapon to fight back against the wealthy corporate few, who would seek to stifle or remove all citizen voice in the governing of our communities. Initiative 517 seeks to protect that process from interference from those with the power to decide what the rest of us can and can’t vote on.

Initiative 517 also contains key provisions protecting signature gatherers from harassment, and extends the time allowed for gathering signatures for state initiative efforts from 6 months to 12 months. Both of those provisions are about helping create respectful political speech, not, as some have contended, infringing on private property rights. After all, those seeking to protect private property rights are among the same corporate interests who would seek to silence the voice of the people. I-517 is about making it more clear what should be considered public space for signature gathering.

Election time is always a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils, and Initiative 517 is tainted by association with Tim Eyman. We acknowledge the nastiness of some of his other initiatives in the past. But on this one he’s right, and this is clearly the lesser of two evils. Do we vote to support the citizens’ right to vote on matters they should decide, or do we deny that right because we can’t stomach Eyman himself? Our choice at Envision Spokane is clear. We support Initiative 517, because it’s the right policy for all citizens. We need to maintain the right of citizen-made law. It’s fundamental to democracy.

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