Paul Jacob

You ask: What programs? Programs these really smart people think up, of course.

But, if you live in Washington state and favor the work of the “strategy center,” The Northwest Progressive Institute, you have a problem. A roadblock. A hurdle. A very large brick wall.

His name is Tim Eyman.

Mr. Eyman is the state’s “initiative king,” meaning there are necessarily millions of accessories to his evil plots: Washington voters.

Eyman, along with several hundred thousand of these voters signing petitions, placed Initiative 1033 on the ballot . . . to be decided, in roughly six weeks, by the state’s unwashed masses. The measure, if passed, would cap the year-to-year growth of state spending to the growth of population and inflation, allowing the caps to be overridden only with express approval from these same plebes.

But this democracy idea doesn’t sit so well with Andrew Villeneuve, who tells us on the Northwest Progressive Institute’s blog that “I-1033 is the boldest assault yet in Tim Eyman’s war on representative democracy.”

Villeneuve believes permitting mere citizens to occasionally vote directly on taxes and spending, on economic policies, is somehow illegitimate — and destructive of the delicate brain surgery done by legislatures.

Oh, he freely admits that the first Americans to raise the banner of Progressivism brought us initiative, referendum and recall. But many of today’s self-described progressives now say “thanks, but no thanks” to the idea of empowering the actual people on the receiving and funding ends of government.

The little guy has apparently outworn his welcome.

Everyman (or -woman) might not vote the right way — that is, the “left” way. Thus, all decisions must be made by special-interest barnacled politicians. Otherwise, disaster lurks.

“If all public services were dependent on voter approval to exist year to year, Washington would not even be a State,” claims the hyperbolic Villeneuve. “Our beautiful corner of America would be known as The Evergreen Chaos.”

Such Chicken Little statements have little to do with the reality of Eyman’s proposal. I-1033 will not require any program to be re-upped by voters yearly.

More troubling, though, is Mr. Villeneuve complete lack of faith in the voters.

Villeneuve is mistaken on the merits of I-1033, but he is dangerously unbalanced in arguing against the right of the people to check the actions of their government through initiative and referendum.

“The initiative and referendum were not intended to replace the Legislature,” he says. But of course, legislators aren’t being replaced, merely overruled. By their bosses.

James Madison, an authority on republican values at least on par with Mr. Villeneuve, wrote in Federalist 49:

As the people are the only legitimate fountain of power, and it is from them that the constitutional charter, under which the several branches of government hold their power, is derived, it seems strictly consonant to the republican theory to recur to the same original authority . . .

In his online rant, Villeneuve turns to a different source: “Even those who argue that representative democracy is flawed cannot disagree with Winston Churchill’s famous conclusion that it ’is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.’”

Funny how Villeneuve edited Churchill. Britain’s prime minister did not use the term “representative democracy” at all. He actually said, “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

In 1944, Churchill also said this about the lowly voter: “At the bottom of all the tributes paid to democracy is the little man, walking into the little booth, with a little pencil, making a little cross on a little bit of paper — no amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly diminish the overwhelming importance of that point.”

Villeneuve’s last refuge is to denounce the entire concept of voter initiatives for one additional reason. “Every time we the people of Washington State are forced to vote on Tim Eyman’s measures, it costs each of us a pretty penny,” he writes. “Eyman seems to have forgotten that holding elections — like every other public service the government provides — carry a price tag.”

Oh, sure, democracy is nice and all, but it costs too much. Perhaps a king would be cheaper?


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.