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Originally published Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 4:14 PM

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Bruce Ramsey / Times editorial columnist

Bills to restrict initiative process really aimed at Eyman

Seattle Times editorial columnist Bruce Ramsey argues that the progressives who want to zap Tim Eyman by limiting the right of initiative and referendum will also hurt their own side.

Seattle Times editorial columnist

OLYMPIA — "I support the initiative process," said Rep. Geoff Simpson, D-Covington, testifying for a bill to restrict it. He spoke at a hearing last Thursday that covered six bills, all of which would make the work of an initiative sponsor more difficult.

The bills have a certain sponsor in mind. They aim at Tim Eyman. What irks them most is not his tax-limiting measures but that he has found a way to make a living from them. Consultants, pollsters and legislators may make a living from politics. But that Eyman supports a family annoys them deeply.

House Bill 2570, sponsored by Simpson, aims to fix Eyman by limiting his donors to $50 each — a jab at Mike Dunmire, Eyman's biggest donor. It also limits a sponsor's income from an initiative to no more than "the annual salary of a legislator."

This is spite, codified.

Next is House Bill 2397, sponsored by Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver. He has taken language from the state anti-smoking law, which says smoking "is prohibited within a presumptively reasonable minimum distance of twenty-five feet from entrances, exits, [and] windows." It has applied these exact words, "windows" included, to signature gatherers, as if their presence were an assault on the public health.

Sometimes signature gatherers do block a doorway, and Walmart and others said they needed to be able to keep their doors clear. Stores should have that right, but as Steve Zemke of Seattle testified, that is not what the bill says. It says 25 feet.

In 1979 Zemke was a sponsor of Initiative 61, a bottle-deposit bill, which made the ballot but didn't pass. He was speaking for the King County Democrats, a group not usually on Eyman's side. A 25-foot rule, he said, would expand the rights of corporations at the expense of individuals.

The American Civil Liberties Union was also on Eyman's side. "This is core political speech," said legislative director Shankar Narayan.

Also, the state constitution declares that the people's right of petition "shall never be abridged."

All of these bills feel like abridgments. House Bill 2579, sponsored by Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, would allow a citizen who signed a petition to take back his signature. House Bill 2615, sponsored by Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, would raise the filing fee from $5 to $250. House Bill 2613, by Hunt, would require paid signature gatherers (but not unpaid ones) to register with Public Disclosure Commission. House Bill 2614, also by Hunt, would throw out all signatures on a petition form that wasn't signed on the back by the circulator.

You can make an argument for each of these. The $5 fee, for example, was set in 1912, when five gold dollars might be a week's pay. But you could also argue for reforms to make initiatives easier, such as to allow petitions to be on regular-sized paper, to be circulated on the Internet and collected by PDF or fax. Not one of the bills is aimed at making the process easier.

In 1912, the progressives created the right of initiative. Now they abridge it, even for their friends.

At the hearing I sat next to Philip Dawdy, a co-sponsor of an initiative to legalize marijuana. Dawdy complained to me that his group, Sensible Washington, wasn't able to accept donations on its Web site because bankers suspected it was laundering dope money. And now these bills, each sponsored by a Democrat.

His plea: "Don't add any more expense and complexity to the process."

Bruce Ramsey's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. E-mail: bramsey@seattletimes.com

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