The people of Washington are still in charge and may override elected officials when they fail to act or make bad decisions. They should be free to exercise that right to advance gun control and reject Seattle’s jobs tax.
Washington state’s Constitution gives voters the opportunity to directly create laws and overturn decisions by legislative bodies. It says “the first power reserved by the people is the initiative.”
That’s powerful stuff. It affirms that the people are still in charge and may overrule elected officials when they fail to act or make bad decisions.
So it’s especially troubling to see a growing trend of well-financed political organizations working to undermine this process and prevent or delay votes on important issues. They should back off and let the people have their say.
The latest examples are attacks from both the right and the left on ballot measures that should be presented to voters in November’s election.
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From the right, gun-rights activists and the National Rifle Association challenged Initiative 1639 wording. After adjustments, a judge decided Thursday that it could proceed with signature-gathering.
The statewide measure would ask voters to consider common-sense safety laws that the Legislature failed to enact.
I-1639 would raise the purchase age for semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21; require a firearms safety course; create secure gun-storage standards and require enhanced background checks and waiting periods similar to what’s required for handgun purchases.
Legal challenges successfully compressed the time that I-1639’s backer, the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, has to gather around 260,000 valid signatures to get the measure on the Nov. 6 ballot. Details about signature sites are available at gunresponsibility.org.
From the left, Service Employees International Union local branches are waging an aggressive campaign to prevent Seattle voters from having a say on a head tax that the City Council approved May 14, to take effect in 2019.
A group upset about the tax is gathering signatures for an important referendum on whether the city should impose a tax on jobs to fund another dramatic increase in homelessness spending.
Seattle voters deserve a chance to tell the City Council and Mayor Jenny Durkan whether this tax increase is appropriate and send a message about whether the city is properly managing its response to homelessness.
The city more than doubled spending on homelessness in recent years, but the overall problem has worsened. Consultants hired by the city and King County have said management and efficiency are bigger problems than a lack of funding.
Spending more without substantially improving outcomes is not a solution. More effective responses are needed to provide better, more humane support to the homeless population.
But rather than let voters have a say on this critical issue, the SEIU-backed campaign is working to prevent the referendum from reaching the ballot. It has already spent more than $24,000.
This low-road effort includes leafleting signature-gathering sites, encouraging people to withdraw signatures and trying to undermine the referendum by propagating stories alleging that signature-gatherers are misleading people.
Hypocritically, the campaign is itself spreading misleading messages about the head tax being a solution to the affordable housing challenge, which it’s not. This is also rich coming from a group that’s had its own troubles with paid signature gatherers.
Yes, the system isn’t perfect.
Some signature gatherers may trip over details with this or any other referendum. If the deception is deliberate, signatures that person gathered may be rejected. But that doesn’t invalidate a referendum.
The onus is on voters to read and understand what they sign. Fortunately, petitions provide a clear and concise description of what’s proposed.
A bigger concern is that powerful entities are spending so much money to prevent the public from exercising its right to have a say over legislation.
Former Supreme Court Justice Phil Talmadge said this trend is enabled partly by the courts, which in recent years have become more open to pre-electoral challenges that prevent signatures from being gathered and measures from reaching the ballot.
Talmadge makes a good suggestion: The pendulum should swing back to where judges are inclined to allow signature gathering unless a ballot proposal is blatantly illegal.
If the legality is a close question or “even a slightly close question, let the signatures get gathered, let the people vote” and then decide if the measure is constitutional, he said.
That bears repeating.
Let signatures be gathered, so the public can decide whether a ballot measure is warranted. Let the people vote.