There is a certain kind of American — fearful, resentful, suspicious — who seems susceptible to the wiles of clever con men who appeal to their prejudices and claim to offer them an inside track into dark, hidden truths. Among these con men is Alex Jones, the Infowars commentator, who makes big money by selling conspiracy theories and dubious health supplements. Another is Sean Hannity, who sucks in a huge salary at Fox News by sucking up to right-wing politicians. And, of course, there is the biggest con man of them all, Donald Trump.
Here in Washington, our politics have been mucked up for decades by a minor-league political con man named Tim Eyman. He was clever enough to figure out that the state’s initiative process could be utilized to ramp up voter anger every year as a way to gather gobs of money and keep a lot of it for himself. Most of Eyman’s initiatives were constructed on simplistic dislike of taxes. Some of his anti-tax ballot issues failed to get enough votes, some passed and were struck down by the courts, a few passed and gummed up government for a year or two until legislators could fix the mess Eyman created.
Winning or losing never mattered all that much to Eyman. He made money either way and, for a while, he was riding high. In the past couple of years, though, his racket started to come apart. In a bizarre episode, he got caught taking an office chair from a store without paying for it. Then he ran for governor and, instead of being the formidable candidate many expected, he lost in the Republican primary to a little-known cop from a tiny Eastern Washington town who went on to get trounced in the general election. Worst of all, the law finally caught up to him.
This week, a Thurston County Superior Court Judge hit Eyman with a fine of more than $2.6 million for egregious campaign finance law violations and permanently barred the initiative king from controlling the finances of political committees.
Eyman is now a spent force in state politics, deep in debt and cut off from his source of easy money. Those folks who fell for his schemes and gave him their votes and their dollars will surely abandon him, even as they lay themselves open for the next political grifter who offers them easy answers and an outlet for their rage.
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