Spokane Continues to Fight for the Right to Vote
by: Alex Valentine Posted on: July 08, 2013
Editor’s Note: Read the Dirt staff writer Alex Valentine provides context to Spokane, Washington’s current work to pass a Community Bill of Rights and a Voter Bill of Rights. In an effort to keep the citizen initiatives off this November’s ballot, corporate business interests, together with the Spokane County Commission, are bringing a legal suit against advocates of the Bills of Rights and the City of Spokane itself.
For more information read the following pieces we are publishing by Envision Spokane, the citizen coalition working to pass the Community Bill of Rights (in chronological order):
For the past five years, citizen’s rights group Envision Spokane has battled their city council and big business to pass their Community Bill of Rights initiative. Envision Spokane’s latest initiative aims to empower Spokane residents in deciding the future of their neighborhoods, further protect the Spokane River and Aquifer, increase worker’s rights, and to limit the power of corporations.
In 2009, The Community Bill of Rights earned enough signatures to qualify for a spot on the city ballot. However, Envision Spokane soon realized that the city council would be determined to resist the initiative, as well as citizens’ right to vote on the Bill of Rights. In its 2009 appearance, the Community Bill of Rights was placed on the ballot, but with “advisory questions” added by the City including whether voters would like to have their taxes increased and services cut in association with the initiative. These questions were added even though the initiative had no defined costs and were added as an attempt by the City Council to mess with the vote, according to Envision Spokane campaign manager and Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund organizer Kai Huschke.
The initiative was once again prejudiced with similar questions, not to mention being out spent 8:1 by corporate opposition, in its next appearance in 2011. Although, this didn’t stop the Community Bill of Rights from earning more than 49% of the vote and coming within a few hundred votes of passing. Clearly, the Community Bill of Rights, which would amend the Spokane City Charter, has continued to resonate with Spokane citizens despite the elected official’s ability to influence the vote.
Fast forward to 2013 and Envision Spokane has once again qualified the Community Bill of Rights for voting on the November ballot, with over 4,500 signatures. In spite of earning enough signatures to legally force the initiative on the ballot, Spokane County Commissioners voted on June 21st 2013 to block the Community Bill of Rights from appearing on the ballot. The rationale, they claim is that measures called for by the Community Bill of Rights would hinder economic development by giving too much power to local residents. The plaintiffs also included members of the business community such as the Spokane Building Owners and Managers Association and Greater Spokane Incorporated, among others.
The lawsuit was filed against Envision Spokane, the County Auditor, and the City of Spokane whose legal duty is to make qualifying initiatives available to voters. Envision Spokane’s legal team has announced that they will fight to maintain the Community Bill of Rights’ place on the ballot.
Despite attempts to discredit the Community Bill of Rights initiative—a citizen’s initiative—by every member of the County Commission, groups like Envision Spokane continue to represent a community that demands to have a voice in the decisions that most impact them. The initiative has already overcome a slew of obstacles, including money, elected officials, and corporate entities, and it is likely to face more still unknown. However, the battle to have the initiative in its pure form placed on the ballot has revealed a bigger problem—that we are still fighting for the freedom to vote.
Photo: Sundodger, Wikimedia Commons
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