This Washington

Thursday Jolt: Challenging Eyman

Anti-Eyman activist gets the last word.

By Josh Feit April 25, 2013


Afternoon Jolt

You may have deduced from my coverage yesterday—which started out about the house budget, but wended its way through an Inslee press conference, interviews with legislative leaders, and a Tim Eyman interview—that it was an action-packed day in Olympia. And it was tricky to fit it all in one story.

Excellent local TV reporter C.R. Douglas filed his own mutli-story-line story from Olympia yesterday too, and he managed to get in one piece I left out—a direct quote from Democratic activist Andrew Villeneuve. 

I'm glad Douglas' crew from Q13 had the cameras rolling on Villeneuve. I simply paraphrased the guy, but watching the tape confirms what I was thinking when I was driving back from Olympia: Villeneuve, the mid-20s head and founder of the Northwest Progressive Institute (a DIY site that issues reports and progressive talking points) was yesterday's MVP. (Villeneuve is also active in the state Democratic Party; he's a member of the Washington State Democratic Central Committee.)

Eyman was supposedly yesterday's attraction, holding court at the Secretary of State's office, where he filed his latest initiative. 

Eyman electronically files his latest anti-tax initiative at the Secretary of State's office yesterday.

Eyman's initiative calls for an advisory vote to see if the public wants the legislature to vote on a constitutional amendment to require a two-thirds rule to raise taxes. (The state supreme court declared the rule unconstitional this year). The ballot measure would first detail every instance in which the legislature "imposed" taxes "without a vote of the people" without providing any context about all the cuts the legislature has had to make under Eyman's own two-thirds rule, which requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature to raise taxes. Critics call the proposal a "push poll" designed to produce an anti-tax result. 

Enter Villeneuve, a longtime Eyman nemesis and mysterious guy who idles in monotone Democratic speaking points. (SeattleMet Senior Editor James Ross Gardner captured Villeneuve's odd personality in a fascinating Met feature a couple of years back.)

Villeneuve stole the show, making what I thought was an astute point about Eyman, that distilled the anti-tax maven's philosophy down to a chilling version of radical populism that frames elected leaders as tyrants.

Villeneuve started out putting Eyman's latest two-thirds measure in the context of budget cuts. But then he picked up steam. And this is why it stuck with me: the press was riveted, and Villeneuve, typically a bit robotic, smiled in earnest for a half second—not the creepy smile of someone who knows the press is listening to them, but the surprised smile of someone who realizes the press is hearing them.

You should watch the snippet of Villeneuve here at the end of Douglas' report, but here's what Villeneuve said in full:

Already we have spent years backfilling. We have spent years trying to figure out how do we get revenue for badly needed services that we just don’t have. And so Tim comes in here and says, well people are feeling like they are oppressed. And my question is, oppressed by who?  I mean, the state legislature represents us. These are our legislators. This is our government.
Eyman acts like we don’t own our own government, but we do. The problem that we have is that there is too much money in Olympia, and the money talks. Tim Eyman loves corporate lobbyists, and corporate lobbyists love Tim Eyman because Tim Eyman does their work. He’s out here sounding like the people’s champion and they’re not here. Do you see any lobbyists here in this lobby? I don’t. Eyman’s here, [Eyman supporters Mike and Jack Fagan] are here, but there’s no corporate lobbyists here.
In the last few years, each one of these campaigns has been underwritten by oil companies, the beer industry.  BP alone gave over $100,000, Conoco Phillips over $100,000. So, who’s interest is Eyman representing?
I didn’t see any grassroots funding campaign for the last initiative. I don’t see one now. I think the only way this initiative gets on the ballot is if corporations line up to give Eyman big bucks to make this thing a reality. That’s what happened in 2012. It’s what happened in 2010. And in 2011 [Bellevue developer] Kemper Freeman Jr.  gave $1 million-plus to get his scheme on the ballot which was designed to get rid of tolls and to make it impossible to get light rail across I-90, and that failed.

So, it is true that an Eyman scheme can be defeated. We have done it in the past. If this measure is going anywhere, we are going to be working hard to defeat it.
We just feel it is time for the people of the state to take a look at who is behind these initiatives.  Who’s the money? Peel, pull back the curtain and find out who is the money behind Tim Eyman.  Take a look. See if you like it. See if you like what these guys are proposing, because when you get down into it, when you change your frame and you ask different questions, you get totally different answers.

We asked Eyman about the funding for his latest initiative yesterday, and he said: "Whoever gets hit with a tax is going to help fund this initiative." (The house Democrats are proposing to get rid of a tax break for oil companies, so once again, Eyman may be bankrolled by BP and ConocoPhillips.)

One person who didn't want to talk about Eyman yesterday was Gov. Jay Inslee. When asked about Eyman's initiative at a press conference, Inslee said acidly: "I have no comments on Tim Eyman. Next question."

Inslee was likely still angry that Eyman, who, in a February email to supporters, called the governor "a lying whore."

Watch Inslee on Eyman here:

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