SEATTLE WEEKLY COLUMNIST Geov Parrish sat down this summer for an in-depth interview with the headline-generating, semi-disgraced initiative king Tim Eyman, back in the news with two new initiatives: I-776, which will be on the November ballot, and a signature drive for the Voters Deserve a Choice initiative on transportation. A short version of that interview, "The Bad Man Speaks," ran in the Aug. 29, 2002 issue of Seattle Weekly. Here's the longer interview, updated with parts of a later conversation, as provided by Parrish.—Ed.
Geov Parrish: Last winter, was there a point at which you were thinking, oh my god, I'm blown it, I've just inadvertently destroyed a movement that I've worked really hard on for years and been really successful with? What have I done?
Tim Eyman: (Whistles, then pauses.) For a week or two after the "scandal," during that period of time, I basically shut myself off from the press, stopped reading newspapers, stopped watching television. I kind of crawled up into a fetal position. I didn't have a whole lot of opportunity to really gauge things. I wasn't reading e-mails from anybody, I wasn't answering the phone—it was basically shut down. At that point, there was that time of introspection, where I sat back and said, how bad is this thing? And then, as I recovered and starting running and tried to put it all together, then all of a sudden, I started hearing from supporters.
That was in the form of e-mails and faxes and phone calls from the other co-sponsors. The reaction was phenomenal. It was universal in the sense that the movement must continue, the movement must continue. Now, there were lots of voices of, "You really pissed me off, you're a fricking moron, you are really stupid," that was obviously intermingled really nicely amongst the comments. But there was never any doubt as to the movement itself, that it was going to go forward. And so we were scrambling at that point to just simply get the petitions dropped in the mail. Because at that point, it is kind of a fait accompli. You send out the petitions. Once they're in everybody's mailboxes, then you can really gauge what the reaction is among supporters, but until they get it in their hands, there's no real way to gauge things except for the anecdotal phone calls from people, and faxes, and that kind of stuff. You always take that stuff with a grain of salt, simply because, are these people representative of everybody out there, or what's the story?
Once I started reading newspapers again, I started seeing quotes from supporters that were quite drawn into the, you know, "I'm not sure about this guy anymore" and that kind of stuff, but then for the last five months, what I've spent my time doing is meeting one-on-one with people—whether it be on the phone or lunches and that kind of stuff. It become pretty obvious pretty quickly that reporters would pick up the PDC [Public Disclosure Commission} reports, get a list of donors, call a hundred of them, find two that were pissed, quote those two, but never quote the 98 that are saying, "Full steam ahead, it doesn't really matter to us, in the sense of, am I still in favor of this."
Was there a point when I thought that it killed the movement? For six years, I've always saw that the people voted for our initiatives because of the ideas. I actually used to make a joke that more people voted for our initiatives in spite of me than because of me. I think a lot of supporters are, "What a loudmouth, what a jerk-off. I like his ideas, but does he have to be such an obnoxious ass in order to make his points?" For that reason, I've always been pretty confident that the movement would continue, but I did see pretty quickly that our supporters did want me to keep going. They wanted me to stay in the fight and keep fighting for this kind of stuff, and so for the last five months, it's been a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff, one-on-one with supporters, and not the public shoot-your-mouth-off on talk radio or talk with reporters.
GP: So why come back into the public eye? Why be a lightning rod? Are you risking having both supporters and detractors voting on your initiatives because of who you are and their liking or disliking you rather than the content of the initiatives themselves?
TE: I know for certain that every person that walks into the ballot booth will vote based on the issue itself and based on no other factor whatsoever, if for no other reason than every single person in the world thinks that the only thing that really matters is their own, and everybody else is just a sideshow, and so you walk into the ballot booth and say, "Do I want to have a higher minimum wage? Do I want to have limited property tax increases? Do I want $30 tabs? Do I want a monorail?" There will be a Pavlovian response to the idea itself. What I've always found is cowardly by most opponents is that they don't have the courage of their convictions based on the issue, and so they feel like they have to throw in one little extra thing. "I disagree with his ideas, but he's also a sleazeball. That's the reason I'm against these initiatives." When in fact, you were always against our initiatives from the beginning, and I just gave you an extra reason to be enthusiastic about your hatred of the initiatives.
The reverse is true among supporters. I think a lot of them are just naturally drawn to the ideas of our initiatives. I bring a lot of colorful presentation to the ideas as well. Among the supporters, especially the hard-core supporters, they love the fact that I'm out there swinging the bat and sparring with the press, and saying somewhat extravagant things to promote the initiatives.
The bottom line is that unless you can get attention for your ideas, it doesn't matter how good they are. They're never going to happen. The one thing that we have noticed is that, say what you will about what an idiot I was in the past, it's getting a whole lot of attention for our initiatives.
GP: More so than most of the other ones on the ballot.
TE: And that was what was amazing. The day we turned in our signatures on July 2 for our initiative: front page, most every newspaper in the state. The following day, another initiative campaign turned in their signatures, close to 100,000 more signatures than we did, and what did you see in the papers? A couple of stories smattered here and there on page B-12. It shows you that half the battle when it comes to initiatives is just getting the press to pay attention to you.
And I've in the past just been waving my arms and doing everything I could to get their attention. Recently I've come up with a brilliant new strategy: totally screw up in February and then you'll get all sorts of attention. It's not like this is part of the master plan. But it's kind of interesting. The question is, is there such a thing as bad publicity when it comes to your initiatives?
As far as I've been able to tell, there hasn't been one story that's been written where at least one paragraph isn't, "His current initiative is $30 tabs for everyone. His current initiative is the Transportation Choices Initiative." It makes it into each and every story, buried sometimes in paragraph 18, but still it's in there, and we're getting a lot of attention. What I believe the role of a good sponsor of initiatives is just to get people talking, and so far we've done a really good job of that.
GP: Your initiatives in the past have primarily dealt with revenues, with how government collects money and how much money it's collecting. No. 1, now you're getting into issues of how government spends the money, and then you're also getting into transportation issues. Why should voters—or anybody—listen to Tim Eyman on spending issues, and why should they listen to you on transportation?
TE: We wanted to give the voters an alternative to Referendum 51 [R-51]. We fashioned the proposal around the idea of using existing public resources more cost-effectively. We do that by opening up car-pool lanes to all traffic during off-peak hours, requiring performance audits be conducted on all transportation agencies—especially Sound Transit—and requiring vehicle sales taxes be spent to fix our transportation infrastructure.
GP: When you're talking about maintenance on infrastructure, are you primarily talking about roads and rail?
TE: What the initiative does is it simply says the sales taxes that you generate when you buy a vehicle, that money will be deposited into what's called a Motor Vehicle Fund, which is the main road fund for the state. That money is deposited to the state and local levels, and it is used for our transportation infrastructure. This would be road maintenance, highways, lane extensions, all that kind of stuff—the transportation infrastructure itself. That's what the money would go to under our proposal.
Once it's in that fund, it's automatically distributed to the state and local levels. They could spend it all on maintenance only, they could use it exclusively for the Alaskan Way Viaduct. We don't micromanage where they're going to spend it, it simply deposits the money into that Motor Vehicle Fund. What they end up doing with the money is going to be their call.
GP: But doesn't focusing on that come at the expense of public transit and other non-auto-centered solutions?
TE: How is it that you can have an initiative that is totally focused on monorail rocking and rolling at 80 percent, and you can have another initiative over here rocking and rolling at 70 percent? Voters recognize that it's going to take a combination of approaches to truly try and address this problem.
GP: But then where's the money coming from?
TE: It's a matter of putting proposals before voters and giving them options.
GP: What happens when the voters are schizophrenic?
TE: Our initiative, 776—wink, wink, nudge, nudge—everybody knows it's going to pass. We all know this. We can all have a wonderful debate on it, but it's going to pass, and it's going to be $30 tabs for everyone, and it's going to repeal 20 percent of the funding for Sound Transit. Sound Transit is going to go running to the regional package for the spring. Sound Transit wants to tuck itself and hide within that regional package. Voters want the choice: Do I want more money to go to [transit] alternatives, yes or no? And they've voted pretty consistently yes.
When it comes to Sound Transit, once 776 passes, Sound Transit's going to be hanging out there alone. They're going to need to put a proposal before the voters and say, "OK, we're radically different than what we used to be, but we still think it's a good program. What do you think?" They should stand there, naked and alone, and say, "Yes. We've got a good package for you—please consider it."
Each program has to stand on its own two feet and not hide and cower and nuzzle itself within, in this case, the regional package. Each one has to stand up on its own. And the voters have shown pretty consistently that if you make the case that the benefits outweigh the cost, the voters are willing to vote for it.
What we saw happening was the political debate centering around, "You're against transportation improvements unless you're in favor of Referendum 51." Now, there's a heck of a lot of people that can sit back and be a regular Joe and say, "I want transportation improved. I just don't like the package you've put together." Now, it's easy to sit on the sidelines and just throw pebbles and say, "I don't like your idea." Well, what's your alternative? "Well, I just don't like your idea." We wanted to put a proposal on the table, and so what we wound up doing was simply saying, OK, what ideas were rejected in favor of the largest tax increase in Washington state history?
Just watching the last legislative session—and the last several—we saw several proposals that were mainstream proposals, common-sense proposals, common sense in our eyes, proposals that we thought were really good ones. And making the argument that, "Hey, we need to exhaust all other options before we begin even talking about a tax increase." And what they did was pass over all these other ideas in favor of the tax increase proposal because they wanted to box voters in. You have one choice and one choice only.
The beauty of the initiative process is that it shatters that monopoly and says, "No, sorry, there is no monopoly on public policy. If we want a monorail, we'll do our own proposal. If we want roads being built with existing tax revenues, we've got a proposal." We wanted to give voters a choice.
GP: One of the criticisms of some of your past initiatives is that voters invariably, in the big picture, send a mixed message. They don't like paying for things, they just want the services. So they'll vote for things like raises for teachers and so on, and then they'll vote to cut taxes. Are you better off second-guessing the Legislature at every turn and putting everything on the ballot? At what point do you draw that line? At some point, you've got to have a cohesive overall fiscal policy, and you can't do that initiative by single initiative, can you?
TE: Forces in favor of higher taxes and higher spending are very well represented in the halls of government, but there's very few cohesive, effective voices coming forward saying, "Wait a minute, what about the taxpayers' perspective in this debate?" That's the role that we see ourselves in with the initiative process, is to say, "Slade Gorton says that our proposal is fiscally irresponsible. His definition of fiscal responsibility is imposing the largest tax increase in Washington state history on a struggling economy in the state of Washington. That's fiscal responsibility. His idea of fiscal irresponsibility is having government spend its existing public resources as cost-effectively as possible." Now, whenever they make the argument, "Well, wait a minute, you're not telling the whole picture," I would respectfully say, "What exactly color is that kettle that you're accusing us of? You guys are basically saying, `Tax increase? Find a way to deal with it. Find a way to deal with it with your health care premiums going through the roof, with your utility bills going through the roof, find a way to make it all add up.'"
GP: You've got 45 of 50 states now in severe budgetary crisis. You've got the stock market wobbling, you've got a recession going on. That means difficulty with taxpayers paying their bills, but it also means you've got a severe loss of revenues among governments. Shouldn't they have the right to try to raise revenues to keep their existing programs?
TE: That is a fair perspective in the debate, but it's also a fair perspective to look at it from the taxpayers' side of things. Can you justify skyrocketing taxes at a time when your health care premiums are going through the roof, your utility bills are going through the roof, where your overall tax burden is really, really high? Those voices need to be heard in the debate. Now, we've all heard over the last year—
GP: You're not just adding voices to the debate. You're asking to set binding law by voter initiative.
TE: But the reality is, the voter initiative process is part of it. You have laws being passed by the Legislature, you have laws being passed by the voters. The voters get one or two ideas a year on the ballot; these guys are passing hundreds, many times thousands of pieces of legislation over the years.
GP: Some of which are trying to undo the damage from your initiatives.
TE: We're basically outgunned because they're doing this stuff on a daily basis; we get one day a year in November. The voices of the average taxpayer, I don't believe, are heard enough in these public policy debates. You've heard for the last year that, "Oh my god, how tough it is for the Legislature, we're facing this shortfall." Well, sit back and ask the guy whose 401(k) just got cut in half how he's feeling right now; ask the person whose health care premiums are going through the roof regardless of what's going on with the overall economy and whether or not that guy even has a job or not. Look at it from the taxpayers' perspective.
As far as the government's perspective on things, it will be well represented in the halls of government, because it's in their self-interest to hear their own voices. We're simply saying from the outside, "Wait a minute here, when you're deciding all this stuff, it all adds up and it all comes from the same family budget, so you ought to be listening to the voters at the same time as you're listening to the lobbyists."
GP: Do you think that policy makers don't trust the public?
TE: That's a laugh line, isn't it? No kidding! They know they are more likely to get taxes increased if they unilaterally do it themselves rather than going to the voters. So therefore, they think that the problem with R-51 is that we actually gave the voters a chance to say yes or no to it. What we should have done was stiff-armed the voters and simply jammed the thing through here in Olympia regardless of public opinion because our definition of leadership is doing things that voters don't want. That's our idea of leadership.
And I'm like, "Well, OK, unique perspective, leadership in dictatorships probably works pretty well. Those guys are real strong leaders. But, by and large, you do have to in a representative democracy represent what the voters are trying to tell you. And I think with our initiatives, the voters have sent a pretty consistent theme of: exhaust all other options before a tax increase is even considered. In this particular case, when it comes to transportation, people rightly say, "Wait a minute! We're spending billions on transportation. How is that money being spent?" And they're not getting an adequate answer when they find out that Locke has vetoed performance audits and all this kind of stuff.
The monorail people are showing that voters are willing to consider those options. They just want to take them on one at a time.
GP: Are there elected officials that you admire?
TE: Rob McKenna is a real heroic guy. Sound Transit fired him from their Sound Transit board—that was their idea of accountability. We've had one guy out of, what, 18 or 19, saying something bad about it, and rather than incorporating what I believe was a majority view, they fired him. The Maggie Fimias of the world. It's the people that tweak people in their own party. You've got to admire that, because you know how much personal pressure that they're under to toe the line. Rob's such the exception rather than the rule.
I've found, just politically speaking, it's less important what party affiliation you are than how do you react to the initiative process. Democrats and Republicans, it doesn't matter, when it comes to being elected officials, some elected officials just totally resent the initiative process. They're pissed off, they're angry, they're resentful. That's on both sides of the spectrum. But on the other side, there are Democrats and Republicans that really respect the initiative process. It's those particular elected officials I admire the most, because they realize that they don't have all the answers. They're not these omnipotent individuals that are just godlike in their perspective on public policy. They realize that, "I know that this is a problem we haven't addressed for 20 or 30 years. We've tried and tried, but it just can't seem to get through the molasses that is the legislative process. Geez, it takes, once in a while, a bomb thrower to simply get out there and break through that Gordian knot, and say, `No! Sometimes the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Let's just go ahead and go forward with this and then work through the process and then just keep coming back again and again.'"
GP: Are you a bomb thrower?
TE: It was really, really easy during the 695 campaign for the opposition to really box us in and say, "They're just radicals that are extremists," and all this kind of crap. When the initiative passed, all of a sudden, Gary Locke became an extremist. And all of these other guys. That made it much more difficult for them to make that same charge. And then, once we started copying legislation that elected officials had introduced for years, it really made it even more difficult.
GP: With a lot of your initiatives, the rhetoric has been about not allowing tax increases, but in many cases they don't allow for inflation, so it ends up being an automatic budget cut each year in terms of effective spending. Is that fair?
TE: From the taxpayers' perspective, they're seeing their property taxes still going up a whole lot, but not as bad as it was. Now we still haven't been able to get a lot of elected officials to even be able to comply with the 1 percent rule. Some taxing districts aren't even abiding by the 1 percent limit. From the taxpayers' perspective, he's being very reasonable and generous in saying "Fine. The automatic limit is 1 percent, but if you want more than that, fine. Come explain it to me."
You've seen consistently, especially in the city of Seattle, you guys are prolific with your ability to approve tax increases for pretty much any cause that you can see on the radar screen.
GP: After five or six years of doing this, how much of an outsider are you?
TE: This outsider/insider stuff works well when you're trying to run for elected office. When it comes to initiatives, I just don't think it's relevant information. What is does is focus in on "Was I more in favor of $30 tabs back then, or am I more in favor of them now based on personalities and whether it's a well-run campaign" and all this kind of crap. Your opinions when it comes to ideas really don't change dramatically from year to year, in my personal opinion.
The obsession that I think our opponents have with me and my plight and my situation and my soap opera is completely separate from, "How do you feel about opening car-pool lanes during off-peak hours?" Voters do have the ability to completely separate those two, and say, "Regardless of what's going on in the soap opera, what's the new idea on the plate right now?" And they evaluate it based upon the issues themselves. You see opponents trying this recently: "Don't support the initiatives because Tim Eyman's a really bad guy." Once they try and make that reach, they wind up losing everybody. When they just holistically center in on me and just say, "Tim Eyman's a really bad guy," they might get some heads nodding but it doesn't affect whether the initiatives are popular or not.
GP: But at this point, that movement is very much tied to you. Your nickname in some areas is "the unelected governor." That may or may not be fair, but that is a perspective that's out there, that you have an awful lot to do with policy in this state.
TE: They don't understand the initiative process properly to understand how idiotic that statement really is. It's beyond stupid, this perspective, but it's out there, and it's, "You think you're smarter than everybody else. You think you've got all these solutions to these problems. All you do is simple solutions to complex problems." You hear all that crap, and it's like, "OK, fine, what's your solution to the same problem that we're currently addressing?" And a lot of them won't even acknowledge that it's a legitimate problem.
GP: Are your solutions primarily negative, though? Don't spend this, or don't tax that, rather than putting forward positive solutions?
TE: You would use the word negative when looking at it from the government's perspective. From the taxpayers' perspective, it's looked at quite positively, that there's somebody out there simply saying, "When it comes to the taxpayers' overall tax burden, they're not getting enough elected officials to really listen to the things that they're trying to say."
GP: So are you doing something other than demolishing?
TE: From the perspective of the taxpayer, we're simply allowing them to keep more of their money to spend as they see fit. When it comes to the transportation initiative, we're simply saying, in the middle of a really tough economy, you should be looking at existing revenues and existing resources you currently have and spending those more cost-effectively to fix the problem, rather than coming to us and saying, "Sorry, the only option we've got is this massive tax increase to fix the problem."
GP: But if you're talking about broad-scale societal problems, individuals with checkbooks are not going to be able to solve that. You have to do it through some sort of an institution, and what you're doing is denying the resources for that institution to fix those problems. True or false?
TE: If our initiative eliminated all tax revenue, you might have a decent argument there. Admittedly, when it comes to our initiatives, they are nibbling around the edges. You fundamentally couldn't take on the whole kit and caboodle even if you wanted to, if for no other reason than the infamous single subject rule. You've got an overall state revenue in Washington in '99 that was $43 billion. With our initiative, we're talking about $760 million per year. Looking at the overall amount of government revenue, we're talking about less than 2 percent of government revenue that's being affected. If you only look at the general fund, you're looking at about 5 or 6 percent. So all the squawking you're getting is about affecting 2 and 5 or 6 percent of government spending being allocated toward fixing our transportation infrastructure.
We would make the case that it is in government's self-interest in keeping commerce going in the state of Washington. If that's the case, if this is a true crisis, you need to be looking at existing revenues really, really hard, and not automatically having a Pavlovian response like you normally do: "Problem? Raise a tax, Problem? Raise a tax." That's the viewpoint of the average taxpayer, who's saying, "Wait a minute. What about all the money I'm already paying in taxes? How's that money being spent?"
GP: With I-776, what you're saying is that despite the recession going on now, there's a budget crisis going on, times have changed, but legislators and bureaucrats are obligated to adhere to the past, $30 is $30.
TE: $30 means $30.
GP: And so the question is: Why try to overturn past votes on Sound Transit?
TE: First of all, the history is, 695 passed, but it never became law. The courts struck it down. The legislature and Gary Locke stepped in and said OK, we gotta give the voters something here. The voters are trying to tell us something here. If we just ignore them, stiff-arm them—the Phil Talmadge strategy, by the way, of we need to just let them eat cake and not give them anything in their initiative—I hazard a guess they would not be real happy that election year, because that was done during an election year. And they all said the same thing: "Thirty dollar license tabs are here to stay. Thirty dollar license tabs are here to stay." Gary Locke stood up there, signed it into law, said, "Regardless of the court's ruling today, $30 license tabs are here to stay." So we have plastered on all of our stuff, "Help Gary Locke keep his promises."
The bottom line is, does a politician's promise mean something to people? When they say, "This is the way we're going to do things," and they do something exactly opposite a year or two later, does that increase your faith in government or does it decrease your faith in government?
GP: But shouldn't, by that argument, we also continue to fully fund Sound Transit, to try to get this project built?
TE: With Sound Transit, you voted for red, and you're getting blue. This is a radically different proposal than what voters were promised back in 1996. They basically said, blank check, we got the money, we're going to go forward with pretty much whatever we want regardless of whether or not public opinion and public support is plummeting on this project. We're going to go forward anyway. Sound Transit's new strategy is, "Let's sue the cities that are trying to represent the voters of their districts." Renton gets the lawsuit against them, they're now pissed at Tukwila, and they say, "Now we're getting tough."
What voters voted for in 1996 is not even remotely close to what's being delivered now. Sound Transit says they don't have enough money now to complete the project. They're eventually going to have come back to [voters] anyway. The question is, do we want to have a re-vote on light rail before we start construction, or is it better to bury our state in debt and plow up neighborhoods—and some of our poorest neighborhoods in the state—and when you're halfway done, say, "We've just scarred the landscape. Do you want to finish this thing, or do you just want to leave this gaping hole in the middle of Rainier Valley?"
There will be a re-vote on light rail. The only thing our initiative does is it simply forces that re-vote to be done before they start construction rather than waiting for them to get halfway done with it and then looking up and saying, "OK, do we still want to complete this thing?"
GP: So you're back in the public eye. Permanent Offense is branching out from simply tax reduction into some specific policy areas as well. What do you want to be doing in five years politically?
TE: We're characterized as, "Your initiatives are obviously a response to voter anger." You might be able to make that argument with the first year that we passed an initiative, maybe even the second year. But what about the third year and the fourth year? At what point is it just calm, rational viewpoints of a legitimate average taxpayer who's saying, "My gosh. Finally, somebody's listening to what I'm saying and finally understanding the enormous burden that I'm under as a taxpayer in the state of Washington." At what point does that occur? The philosophy of Permanent Offense is, you should send the same message year after year after year. Politicians will find every excuse to explain away the last election and what the voters were trying to tell them. They want to basically define things the way they define them. By coming back year after year after year, they're getting a much broader message from the electorate, which is, "No, wait a minute here—this is not one particular tax; this is the overall tax burden." [That] is the part of the message of our initiatives that is a drumbeat now. You're getting that year after year after year.
GP: At what point is it under control? Do you ever think it will be?
TE: The initiatives that we put forward are options for the voters to consider, and the voters have shown time and time again that they like what we're doing, and they like the direction that we're going, and they like the ideas that we're putting forward. So far, we've been pretty good at speaking for the average taxpayer in the political debate. If suddenly we just start going off into la-la land, if the voters end up saying "No, that's a stupid idea," does that necessarily kill the movement or is it just that we got it wrong? It doesn't mean that there isn't always issues. We've got this slogan for Permanent Offense: "Solving problems politicians won't." Tell me how broad a list of things you can come up with? What problems are out there that politicians aren't solving themselves? There's a whole lot of them. There's a whole lot of them.
The only ones that they really address are the ones where the voters illustrate that this is an issue that you guys aren't addressing. How do you bring those ideas out? Well, some people do it through campaign contributions, some people do it in the smoke-filled rooms with elected officials. We do it simply by saying, OK, we're going to file an initiative and give the voters an option. And if the voters think that this is a better solution than the one that is coming forward legislatively, then fine, they'll vote for it. If they think it's a stupid idea, they'll vote it down. The idea of giving voters an additional option is something voters really appreciate.
GP: Are you going to keep coming back? Do you think that's going to be necessary?
TE: I do. I do. It's a really difficult one, but I do see it's like we've got this wild stallion—which is government—and the idea of putting a saddle on the back of it looks so daunting and so difficult, but you keep trying and you keep trying and, eventually, it gets to the point where the stallion's willing to have somebody get on the back of him and actually ride him a little bit, and all of a sudden, you get a little bit of discipline involved in the process.
I really think that when it comes to taxpayers and the taxpayers' perspectives that there are so many elected officials that don't even think it's a legitimate viewpoint to simply say, "The tax burden is really high on taxpayers, and they're tapped out. Now's not the time to be going at them with a tax increase." And that is heresy. It's like Dracula with a cross.
There's certain viewpoints that you can't seem to break through very well. The one thing that I am finding to be extremely beneficial to our initiatives is that our opponents are wasting all of their arrows shooting at me and basically leaving our initiatives on the sidelines as far as their criticisms are concerned.
I don't know what political strategist defined this idea that if we can make the voters not like the sponsor, we'll start getting them to vote no on the initiatives themselves. It's completely devoid of common sense as a political strategy, but I'm reveling in it, because as long as they keep shooting arrows at me, our initiatives are just going to keep on skirting on by. I'm just going to stand up in front of most crowds and say, "Our opponents have absolutely no public policy arguments against our ideas." If they did, they would make them, but instead, they're wasting their time with the soap stuff.
GP: So you're on transportation this year. What's next? If there are so many problems out there that aren't being solved, what's at the top of your list?
TE: Um. Stay tuned.
GP: For the last five months, it's been Jack and some of the other folks [initiative co-sponsors] in the limelight. Are they going to be doing more of that, or are you going to be hogging the stage again? What do you think is most useful?
TE: For the last five months, it's been me one-on-one with supporters, and I just heard over and over and over again, "We like it when you're out there mixing it up and doing these talk shows and talking to the press, and you seem to enjoy it, and you should get back out there." Amongst Monty and Mike and Jack, they love that stuff, too. So it's not a matter of either/or, it just so happens that reporters want to get a colorful quote for their story, and so they go to wherever they think they're going to get it, and they always love to throw in that extra "Oh, by the way, do you also have any comment about the current status of the lawsuit against you?" And then they get that little dig in there, and they end up putting that in paragraph one of their story.
Reporters are drawn to conflict, and I breed conflict. I'm just the personification of conflict. I'm a ripe target because of the cocky attitude and the strut, and there's a little bit of the finger in the eye of the establishment. Some people are drawn to that. Obviously, our hard-core supporters love that. There's a certain aspect of it that is a little bit done to bait the opponents to the point where they just can't help themselves because they get so angry and frustrated.
The bottom line is, what is the goal of an initiative sponsor? To get people writing about the initiative, talk about the policy, and any way you can get a conversation started—including sticking a finger in the eye of reporters—do it. It gets a story written.
Referendum 51, they've got millions, they're not going to have a problem getting attention because they're going to buy up all sorts of TV ads and radio ads. How do we compete with that? Our only option is free press.
GP: How much are you hoping to raise for 776 and for the transportation initiative?
TE: Obviously, the focus needs to be on the transportation initiative because 776 is already on the ballot. We've got to get 200,000 signatures by the end of December. That's signature gathering during snow, rain, sleet.
GP: Do you use paid signature gatherers for that or volunteers?
TE: It all depends. If you raise enough money, you owe it to your supporters to do everything you possibly can, including paid signature gatherers, simply because everybody who signs the initiative does so voluntarily. Nobody's paying them to sign it.
As long as all the staff for all the King County [Council members] and all the legislators work for free, OK, fine. As long as it's a level playing field, I don't have a problem with it. But as long as there are going to be people paid to exercise their First Amendment rights, hey, God bless America. Let's go out and compete on the idea itself. The challenge is not the idea itself, the challenge is just, logistically, getting signatures for a new one.
GP: The argument against paid signature gatherers is basically an argument that people are too stupid to understand what they're signing.
TE: Yeah. Ultimately, ultimately, because these shysters are out there telling people things that are totally untrue, unlike our elected officials. They're going to get people to sign this piece of paper without really reading it. And I'm like, "Do you know how difficult it is to get anybody to sign anything, let alone put their home mailing address in writing on an official document that's eventually going to be submitted to the government itself?"
I mean, my god, people are so concerned—I think rightly—about their privacy, and whether or not credit card companies are selling their addresses to other people. It is really difficult to get somebody to stop for a moment even, and say, "Public policy. I know you're a busy person, but let me tell you something about $30 tabs. Let me tell you something about what those dastardly politicians are doing this year." Getting a conversation started on the topic is brutally difficult, and to get someone to sign on the dotted line, the idea that that's an easy thing to do—these people are in la-la land if they think that it's just really easy to get out there and get people to sign a petition. It's very difficult.
GP: It's been a helluva year. Do you personally want to keep doing it?
TE: For the last five months I've been talking with supporters, and without exception, every single one of them has said, "Keep going. We love what you're doing. Keep going!" It's kind of hard to tell them, "Well, sorry, it's getting a little too tough out there. They're being really mean, and they're saying bad things, and you know what? It's just too hard." It sounds kind of whiny, and it doesn't sound real attractive to me, and so the idea of going to supporters and saying, "I liked it when it was fun, but now that it's getting tough, I'm going to crawl away with my tail between my legs."
For a lot of these supporters, I owe them a lot. They stayed loyal during extremely difficult times. How do you reward those people for sticking around and for going out and getting signatures and for continuing on with the cause when it wasn't an easy thing to do? How do you reward those people? Do you keep going and keep fighting for them, or do you say, "You know what, it's not fun anymore, I quit."
GP: But it also gets back to the lightning rod question. Is your presence a positive for these campaigns, or does it take away from the ideas themselves?
TE: I have always viewed the role of a successful sponsor of initiatives as to simply get the press to pay attention to what you're doing. In the past, I did it by using somewhat colorful statements. Now, it's just my mere presence. As long as I'm out there swinging the bat and fighting the forces of evil and making the argument from the taxpayers' perspective, I think the positive far outweighs the negatives when it comes to the initiatives that we're promoting.
So far, the people that really make this stuff happen—the donors and the signature gatherers and that kind of stuff—they kind of like me in the fight, they like me in the mix. And even now, the feedback I get is, "Gosh darn it, I sure like that Tim Eyman a helluva lot better than the bawling boob I saw back in February." So as a result, you kind of say to yourself, "These kind of people stuck by the cause during pretty tough times." What does it say to those people for you to say, "You know what? It was fun for a while, but it's not fun anymore, I'm not going to do it."
GP: Is it fun?
TE: It's enormously fun. There is nothing about it that is un-fun.