He Is We

Times are tough, but it's not Eyman's fault.

QUICK. HIDE THIS issue of Seattle Weekly from the kids. No, not because of the sex ads. The boogeyman is on the cover, that one-man Axis of Evil himself, Tim Eyman. He's baaaaack, and it's not even Halloween, and the election's still weeks away. But, well, he's always back, isn't he? The populist Comeback Kid is the conservatives' answer to Steinbeck's Tom Joad from The Grapes of Wrath: Wherever there's a tax that pisses off the little guy, he'll be there with an initiative to sign. Whenever a bureaucrat gets too big for his britches, he'll be there, too. If an SUV owner's got to pony up more than $30 for a license plate tab, you'll hear the whispering sounds of people signing petitions in the night.

The reason he's on the cover of Seattle Weekly is simple: People wonder what the world would be like if Eyman ruled. What does he stand for? What does he believe in? So we asked him to tell us in his own words. Like it or not, he's pretty straightforward. And for those who want to know even more, we've posted the long, uncut "Light My Fire" version of Weekly columnist Geov Parrish's recent interview with Eyman on our Web site. It's all Eyman, all the time, and if after all that you still don't understand the guy, well, then Eyman will probably remain an enigma safely wrapped in your conundrum for all time. We've done our part.

TIM EYMAN IS to Seattle liberals what Saddam Hussein is to George Bush: the ultimate thorn in the side, the whacked-out crazy who's willing to use the political equivalent of anthrax on government, taxes, and consensus. In short, all the things we hold dear. It feels so personal, like when Saddam tried to kill Poppy!

It would be easy if we could blame all our problems on Eyman. But we can't. He's not to blame, and he's not the problem. He's a clever, energetic salesman with an Elmer Gantry gift. He's a guy who's given new life to the initiative process. If liberals were smart, they'd listen, learn, and fight fire with fire. Instead, they shriek "Eeeeek!" and hope the courts will bail us out of the messes Eyman gets us into.

But you have to remember, Eyman is no lone gunman. His allies are we the people who sign and pass his initiatives. The typical liberal response would be to say that the majority of voters in this state are stupid. And that's just what they'd expect us Seattleites to think. But a better response, one that allows more room for hope, is to hear what the majority is trying to tell us. This is where Eyman has an edge. When people complain, he responds, unlike government, unlike most of our elected officials, unlike the unelected boards that run our boondoggles, unlike the private-sector lobbyists and bullies who expect to buy results for cash, and do.

Tim Eyman didn't squander voter goodwill on stadium votes. Tim Eyman didn't split the Legislature and create gridlock in Olympia. Tim Eyman didn't steal Gary Locke's spine. Don't blame Eyman for the Sound Transit mess or the Port of Seattle's third-runway mess. Don't blame Eyman for loose growth laws, the coming collapse of King County, or the Balkanization of Puget Sound. Eyman didn't design the state's regressive tax system, he didn't get us hooked on lottery and gambling revenues (who wants slots?). He didn't write the rapacious policies that have stripped our forests and emptied our rivers.

Eyman and his army are responding to many of the same problems that are driving us all nuts. Yes, it's imperfect, but who is going to do the dirty work of shaking things up? Sea turtles and Teamsters? The well-meaning gray hairs at the Municipal League? The party hacks? The typical Olympia pol? Please.

There's a big, huge, soul-sucking leadership vacuum in this state, and Eyman's dancing onstage doing the vaudeville shuffle until someone with a big hook comes along and yanks him off for an act that should be at the top of the bill. But none is in sight.

THINK EYMAN IN tap shoes is bad? Things are going to get a lot uglier. The economy is going to drag, and we're going to bounce around with unemployment worse than Mississippi's for a while. Boeing ain't coming back, nor are the dot-goners. Costs are going up, and we've committed billions to civic improvements that improve nothing but the bottom line for bankers. Little is being done (let alone said) about health-care costs and insurance; state, county, and city social services are getting slashed; the Seattle school district is bleeding cash because no one over there seems to know how to add or subtract. And let's see, Bush is about to cut down a lot more forest so it can be sold off for peanuts, and the state budget has a hole in it bigger than a Seahawks halftime deficit.

Meanwhile, Seattleites debate the important things: aesthetics. Like how pretty the waterfront would be without a viaduct, or how nice the views will be from a sleek new monorail.

The emblematic leader of our times isn't Tim Eyman. It's Nero.

kberger@seattleweekly.com

 
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