Between a court holding Eyman in contempt and his struggles to raise money, even the longtime initiative promoter is suggesting his latest car- tabs measure might be his last stand.
Even Tim Eyman, he of the political nine lives, is saying that this might be his “last hurrah,” his “final stand.”
No doubt he’s using language like that in part to generate sympathy, and to turn sympathy into money. Eyman is always the political hustler.
But I’ve known him professionally for 15 years, in which time he’s promoted 20 statewide initiatives. This is the first time I recall him ever hinting the gig that has made him the most persistent gadfly in Washington politics might someday be up.
“Because of what I’m facing, I asked myself earlier this year — if you could choose your last hurrah, what would it be?” Eyman said Friday. “For me, it all started with $30 car tabs. So it’s all coming back around to that.”
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What Eyman is facing is twofold. One, of late there has been a decided lack of interest in his efforts. Especially among the forces that drive initiative politics in this state.
This fall will mark the third in a row with no Eyman initiative on the ballot. That’s because he hasn’t been able to attract wealthy donors or big businesses to pay for the collection of citizen signatures (ain’t our democracy grand?).
The last time we voted on an Eyman initiative was November 2015. It’s by far the longest drought of his career, and since this is how he gets paid, it’s a career-threatening dry spell. Before that, Eyman was relevant and pushing his anti-tax policies in seven out of the eight previous elections.
His current Initiative 976, to slash car-license tabs back to $30 (which would cancel a slew of transit projects, including big parts of Sound Transit’s light rail), has raised about $440,000. But $375,000 of that — 85 percent — has come from Eyman liquidating his own retirement fund.
Even he admits this is a desperate gambit: “It wasn’t plan B to spend my retirement, it was plan Z.”
The other force Eyman is facing is what he calls a “dumpster dive into my life, a full-on rectal exam.” It’s a lawsuit against him by the state alleging that Eyman used his initiative empire as a kickback scheme to enrich himself, deceiving contributors along the way. It comes with convincing evidence, at least so far.
The latest developments haven’t gotten a ton of attention, but recently the court in that case found Eyman and his co-defendant signature-gathering firm to be in contempt for not turning over records. The court is fining each $250 per day — with Friday being Day 142, as the contempt order was retroactive to mid-February. Adding in court costs, the state says the total fine already tops $105,000. That’s more than Eyman has raised from the public to back his current initiative.
Eyman did say he has 1,800 contributors to a legal-defense fund to help defray these costs. He wouldn’t say how much is in that fund, or answer any specific questions about the case. Trial is currently set for November.
It’s shaping up to be a political death match. On the other side, the state Public Disclosure Commission, which is picking up the tab for the state’s investigation of Eyman, recently announced that the $360,000 bill for the case so far has blown a hole in the agency’s campaign-enforcement budget.
“It is pretty clear that one unit within the Attorney General’s Office, and one case within that unit, are driving all of our cost overruns,” the agency’s director, Peter Lavallee, lamented to commissioners at a recent meeting.
Sure feels like something’s got to give. The state has exponentially deeper pockets of course. But Eyman is Eyman. Echoing you-know-who, he calls it all a massive liberal “witch hunt.”
“What I know is that (state attorney general) Bob Ferguson is trying to drive me out of politics, permanently,” Eyman said. “So you know what my reaction to that is? It’s to become as politically active as I have ever been in my life.”
Eyman’s obituary has been written more times than nine (as he delights in pointing out). So never count him out. But he’s on the ropes. And all I know is courts don’t typically levy six-figure contempt fines, and counting, over nothing.