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Originally published Thursday, July 21, 2011 at 3:31 PM

Grass roots missing from this year's initiatives

Next year is the 100th anniversary of the state's initiative process. This year, three measures are expected to qualify for the ballot. None of the three is grass roots in origin, which was the idea of initiatives in the first place.

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WITHOUT addressing specific pros and cons of any of the three statewide initiatives that appear likely to qualify for November's ballot, it is hard to deny one glaring truth: None are truly grass roots in origin.

Business, labor or cottage-industry initiative writers are behind all three proposals. Consider, for example, the labor effort to boost training and payments for home-health-care workers, backed by the Service Employees International Union. Think, too, about, the Costco-backed measure to get the state out of the liquor business or the anti-variable-tolling measure, advocated by Tim Eyman and heavily underwritten by Bellevue businessman Kemper Freeman.

As Washington approaches the 100th anniversary of its initiative process in 2012, it is fair to say this year is no exception. The process has been shifting from bottom-up governing to essentially initiatives as part of bigger lobbying efforts.

SEIU, for example, tried to win an increase in state-paid training in Olympia and did not get what it wanted, so to the ballot the union goes.

The state really should get out of the liquor business but lawmakers got to that party too late in the legislative session, so a decent legislative solution was unavailable. Costco dusted off and improved an earlier initiative and offers Initiative 1183.

And perpetual initiative sponsor Eyman seized on tolls as the enemy du jour.

If something truly grass roots, pardon the pun, was to make the ballot this year, it would have been marijuana legalization. The public is ahead of the government on this, but there was not money or a sturdy enough organization to produce sufficient signatures.

Perhaps one recent measure inspired by citizens was Initiative 1000, passed by the voters in 2008. The so-called "Death with Dignity" measure was led by former Gov. Booth Gardner. Though national organizations, with their cash, ultimately weighed in on both sides, Gardner wanted nothing more than people suffering terminal illnesses to be allowed to have a physician assist in their death.

Some initiatives at the local level seem more citizen-based than statewide measures.

Few in this state would seriously consider doing away with the initiative process, and neither would we. But it is fair to describe the initiative enterprise as one taken over by big labor, big business and Initiatives, Inc.


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