The Sound Transit board picked Tim Eyman to help write the voters- pamphlet statement opposing the fall ballot measure on light-rail expansion. Opponents of the ballot measure say the move amounts to campaign sabotage.
The registered campaign against Sound Transit’s proposed light-rail expansion would rather not be linked to professional tax rebel Tim Eyman, but it appears that train has left the station.
Eyman’s name will appear in the fall voters guide after the transit agency’s governing board voted to have him co-write the statements against the $54 billion Sound Transit 3 measure.
“This is so cynical. This is an attempt to poison the issue,” said campaign member Chuck Collins of Mercer Island, who added that he called Sound Transit on Friday to withdraw from writing the voter-guide statements. “Tim is radioactive in central Puget Sound, King County. And they know this.”
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Collins, a former King County Metro Transit director, in 2001 suggested a Ride Free Express bus network instead of light rail.
Maggie Fimia, spokeswoman for People for Smarter Transit, accused Sound Transit of sabotaging the opposition — so voters won’t see a “transit person talking about this ballot measure.”
“This campaign is going to have to make the best of things,” Fimia said.
Putting Eyman in the guide creates the overly simplistic perception that the ST3 opposition is no more than a tax revolt, her group says.
In its decision Thursday, the transit board dismissed advice by member Dave Upthegrove of Des Moines, who voted no and said Eyman should be omitted, because Eyman’s campaign-finance practices in other matters are under state investigation.
Because of a longstanding quirk in Washington state law, the board was required to pick three people in each of Sound Transit’s three counties to write the opposition statements. The same awkward situation applies when a city or county council refers tax levies to the ballot.
The board selected Eyman, a resident of Mukilteo in Snohomish County, to appear on pamphlet statements in all three urban counties.
The Voters Pamphlet can be the final or perhaps the only information many people peruse before mailing their ballots.
Transit-board member Fred Butler, the mayor of Issaquah, who proposed the names Thursday, said Sound Transit received messages from 18 Eyman supporters.
Eyman said Friday his experience from 13 campaigns can increase the impact of voters-guide messages, which allow only 150-250 words.
“You’ve got to absolutely focus on the Achilles’ heel ST3, the massive public tax on the ballot. You’re losing votes, [unless] you have someone in the ranks to say, ‘keep your eye on the ball.’ ” Past campaigns have digressed into debating various transportation methods, or other angles, he said.
Eyman has already invoked his selection to the voters guide in his fundraising email Friday, causing Bellevue City Councilmember Kevin Wallace, a prominent opponent, to say Sound Transit “selected him because they knew Eyman would make the opposition statement about the messenger instead of the message.”
Wallace called Thursday’s decision “another piece of an ever-growing body of evidence that Sound Transit needs to be reformed.”
Eyman has delighted for years in baiting Seattle-area progressives, who routinely vote against his ballot measures. Campaigners could urge people to thwart Eyman by voting to approve ST3.
Eyman has announced a “We Love Our Cars” initiative drive aimed at 2017, seeking to repeal I-405 express-toll lanes, slash car-tab fees to $30, and make Sound Transit pay its bond debts early.
If ST3 is approved, the agency would build seven light-rail extensions, add commuter-rail capacity and create bus-rapid transit routes, at an estimated cost increase of $326 for a median household next year in sales, car-tab and property taxes. As many as 700,000 daily passengers would use ST3 lines plus previously approved trains and buses, by 2041, the agency estimates.
Transit-board member Claudia Balducci of Bellevue, also a Metropolitan King County Council member, said that snubbing Eyman would trigger “parallel criticism” of the board, from his supporters.
“Of all the applicants, he is by far the longest-tenured and highest-profile transit opponent,” Balducci said, noting two slots per county still went to what she calls the self-identified Smarter Transit group.
“If you don’t put him on, it’s just going to prove you’re afraid of a real opponent,” she said.
Sound Transit named:
• Snohomish County: For — Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson, Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson and travel expert Rick Steves. Against — Collins; former County Councilmember Gary Nelson and Eyman.
• King County: For — King County Executive Dow Constantine, former Gov. Chris Gregoire, and Steves. Against — Collins, Eyman and Kirkland City Councilmember Toby Nixon.
• Pierce County: For — Former U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy and Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland. Against — Collins, Eyman and county Assessor-Treasurer Mike Lonergan.
Lonergan said Friday he and Eyman will meet next week to draft some language, as Pierce County’s deadline looms Aug. 5.
The board left off Maralyn Chase, state senator from Edmonds, whom the Smarter Transit group nominated for the Snohomish and King county statements. Bryan Mistele, CEO of the INRIX traffic-data firm, independently asked to co-write the no statement.
When the Sound Transit 2 measure passed in 2008, statements in opposition were written by former state Supreme Court Justice Phil Talmadge of West Seattle; by Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman, a longtime roads advocate; and by Nelson.
Lori Augino, elections director for the Secretary of State’s Office, said this method has the virtue of ensuring that voter-guide writers are named in an open public meeting, with a chance for public comment.
If the state picked the writers instead, people like Augino would have no idea who, under the law, qualify as the “persons known to favor” and “persons known to oppose,” she said.
Augino said this is the first time she can recall that a local government’s pamphlet picks triggered a dispute.