Initiative 517 is a Tim Eyman initiative that is on the November 2013 ballot in Washington State. It is a measure to promote Tim Eyman’s business – which is making a living off of putting conservative libertarian measures on the ballot. In this case Eyman wants to create a 25 foot signature gathering zone around petitioners where people can not speak out and oppose his business. It is a direct infringement on the free speech rights of citizens, violating the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution.
Jason Mercier of the conservative “free market” Washington Policy Center writes about Initiative 517 in today’s Thedailyworld.com under a headline of “Heavy hitters line up against I-517“. Mercier in his opinion piece brushes aside some of the concerns about Eyman’s self serving initiative as non-controversial. That is not the reality.
This measure is not as uncontroversial as Jason Mercier suggests. One of Eyman’s provisions is to create a 25 foot no harassment zone around signature gatherers. There are already penalties for harassment that work just fine. I-517 tries to go much further by shutting down free speech activities around petition gatherers.
Eyman’s measure infringes on 1st amendment rights by setting up a 25 zone around petitioners saying that certain activity can result in disorderly conduct charges including activity that is “…intimidating, or maintaining an intimidating presence within twenty-five feet of any person gathering signatures”. To most petitioners someone standing 5 feet away and carrying a sign saying “do not sign this measure” or merely saying out loud that citizens should read the measure before signing it causes petitioners to say they are being harassed.
This measure is an attempt to shut down public discourse and dialogue in public places and silence those opposing Eyman’s measures. This violates 1st amendment free speech rights and goes too far. Eyman wants a free pass to collect signatures without anyone questioning him. Trying to silence those that dissent peacefully with others is what you would expect in a totalitarian society, but not in America.
We will publish more of our concerns about Initiative 517 over the next few months but believe it goes too far. The public strongly supply the initiative process in Washington State and it has been used by both right and left leaning groups in pushing Washington policy and law. But there is a balancing act necessary to protect rights of both supporters and opponents of specific initiative measures in the public arena.
Initiative 517 is a “solution” looking for a problem and there isn’t one in this case. Eyman has not had a problem getting initiatives on the ballot and neither have others, especially if they have money. This measure would make it easier for Eyman to get more of his measures on the ballot and that is why he is pushing it.
For progressives thinking this will make it easier for them to get measures on the ballot, the downside is that they will also have to spend more time fighting more conservative measures put on the ballot by Eyman, including those at the local level. It’s already hard enough to fight an Eyman measure year after year. Think what it will be like with two or three Eyman measures on the ballot each year and 4 or 5 others at the same time at the local level.
We elect a Legislature to do the people’s business after public hearings and review. While initiatives are a healthy outlet for the public to act when the legislature doesn’t, running our state more and more by initiative puts the process of making our state laws up for sale to the highest bidder.
Unfortunately the highest bidder is usually corporate and special interests that can afford to spend millions to get their message out to the voting public.