Liberals are crowing that Tim Eyman has folded his hand and isn’t going to be on the ballot this fall. But the conservative initiative king has an ace in the hole.
The story going around, in liberal circles anyway, is that Tim Eyman is having a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad year.
The gregarious initiative hustler just had yet another of his anti-tax measures torpedoed by the courts. He apparently is still under state investigation for allegedly running an initiative kickback scheme. And his anti-car-tax initiative for this fall never got off the ground.
“It appears the good people of Washington will once again be able to enjoy an Eyman-free election this autumn …” wrote Andrew Villeneuve, who runs an anti-Eyman group called Permanent Defense. “That’s a victory we will be celebrating all summer long.”
All of that is true — for now. But there’s something else going on with Eyman that has gotten almost no attention. He’s holding an ace in the hole that’s likely to make him a major player in the huge tax and spending fights on the horizon, perhaps for years to come.
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Eyman’s got a billionaire. He’s never had a whale like this before.
In fact Ken Fisher is a billionaire three and a half times over, ranked No. 211 currently on the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans. He’s the sixth-wealthiest person in our state, behind James Jannard of Oakley sunglasses fame (who is listed as living in the San Juan Islands), and the familiar suspects of Allen, Ballmer, Bezos and Gates.
Fisher moved his money-management firm from California to Camas, in southwest Washington, a few years back. His political bent could be gleaned right away when he was asked about a state income tax, Initiative 1098, proposed in 2010 by William Gates Sr.:
“If 1098 gets within 5 percent of passing, there is no way under God’s little green apples Washington will ever be our corporate headquarters, and likely (Camas) will never see another building,” he told the Columbian newspaper.
That’s some Eyman-level smack talk right there! The two soon found one another, with Fisher giving $100,000 to Eyman’s Initiative 1366 that sought to coerce the Legislature into passing a tax-limiting constitutional amendment. This winter, Fisher pledged $600,000, in the form of a loan, to Eyman’s next initiative to hamstring the Legislature from raising taxes.
It means Eyman is hardly dead. He may be in a stronger position than ever — particularly if Republicans were to lose the state Senate this fall.
“Everything I’ve been working on for the past 16 years is coming to a head in 2017,” Eyman enthuses. He cited the Legislature possibly imposing a capital-gains tax (Fisher and a Vancouver, Wash., developer, Clyde Holland, are bankrolling him largely to oppose that). Plus he believes there will be continued outrage about tolls, along with sticker shock over car tabs after the Sound Transit light-rail campaign this fall. Hence his new plan for an initiative slashing those items called “We Love Our Cars.”
I’m against all these efforts of his, especially the retrograde anti-transit stuff, and tell him so. But in our system where a million bucks will buy virtually any idea onto the ballot, it’s a mistake not to take Eyman seriously.
“They’re ready,” he said, referring to Fisher and Holland. “The stars are aligning for the Legislature to go bonkers next year on taxes, and their money is only going to be used to combat that. So they get that this is painstaking work, where we have to keep coming back at it and back at it.”
I asked: How did they respond when the initiative they invested so much money in last year was tossed so readily by the courts? I’ve always wondered whether rich folks feel they get their money’s worth with Eyman. I know that in the past, some business backers haven’t.
“Both of those guys admire my persistence,” was all he would say on that point.
Or maybe it’s this: They have nowhere else to go. Imagine you’re rich and conservative in our liberal bastion. Your party doesn’t win statewide. Narrow Republican control of the state Senate gives you a toehold on state policy, but that comes and goes. So Eyman, for all his legally dubious proposals and self-inflicted wounds, amazingly remains about your only game in town.
And now he’s landed his first billionaire. Which means, sorry to say it, liberals: This could be your last Eyman-free year for a while.