Paul Jacob

Everybody hates Tim Eyman.

That’s what you might think if you spent too much time listening to politicians in his home state of Washington, or perusing ill-mannered and condescending Internet postings smearing the “initiative-crazed madman” for seemingly single-handedly starving their Big Brothers in Olympia, the state’s quaint capital.

Legislators have compared Eyman to a terrorist and a pig — but, ever-so-generously, not “a terrorist pig.” He’s said to lack “one ounce of compassion” and to be “the state’s most infamous political liar.”

David Goldstein, a progressive blogger and former radio talk show host, filed an initiative in 2003 that read in part, “[B]e it resolved, That the citizens of the State of Washington do hereby proclaim that Tim Eyman is a Horse’s Ass.” Yet, Goldstein lacked the gusto to get the signatures required to put the measure to a vote.

In September, a comment on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer website took it to another level: “Won’t someone just kill Eyman already?” But don’t feel threatened, as the author added, “Oh wait, only righties kill people over politics.”

Tell that to Stalin, Mao, and the Weathermen.

Why all the vitriol?

It seems too many Democrats and “lefties” don’t like democracy nearly so much as they like to proclaim . . . at least when they lose. At Eyman’s hands, they lose fairly often.

But is Eyman the actual deliverer of the hated coup-stick thwackings? Eyman has no powerful political position. He’s simply a voter and, more importantly, a proponent of initiative measures. Everything he’s accomplished has merely allowed the people of Washington to vote and make the final decision. Eyman explains:

I didn’t repeal the state motor vehicle excise tax (I-695 in 1999) and local vehicle fees (I-776 in 2002) . . . impose 1 percent limits on property tax collections by state and local governments (I-747 in 2001) . . . give the state auditor the authority to do comprehensive performance audits of state and local governments (I-900 in 2005) . . . re-impose a 2/3’s vote requirement for the Legislature to raise taxes (I-960 in 2007), the voters did.

Repeat that: Eyman did’t do those things, the voters did. Eyman calculates that the people of Washington have saved themselves $15.5 billion in taxes by voting for the successful initiatives that he has pushed, working through a group called Voters Want More Choices . . . which he leads along with Jack and Mike Fagan. (The Fagans were very active in battling Republican George Nethercutt in 2000, after the former congressman broke his pledge to serve only three terms in the other Washington.)

This November, Voters Want More Choices sponsored I-1053, a statewide measure requiring tax increases to be passed by a two-thirds majority of both houses of the legislature, and fee increases be passed by a majority. The measure was written in response to the legislature’s repeal of a similar initiative, I-960, passed by voters back in 2007. The more recent go-round garnered 64 percent of the vote — the most ever for an Eyman-proposed issue.

In his spare time, Tim took on the red-light camera industry in his home town of Mukilteo, north of Seattle. He overcame the resistance of local officials to even holding a vote on the issue, and his measure to require public approval before installing any cameras and limiting fines to $20 won 70 percent of the vote.

What’s most essential about Tim Eyman is his understanding of the importance of the initiative and referendum process. “Initiatives allow you to fundamentally change public policy in a really substantial way,” he told the Washington Times. “It is the ultimate in truth in advertising. You can’t hide what your proposal does. Initiatives can’t change their mind after the election — unlike politicians.”

Like America’s Founders, Eyman understands that, ultimately, the principle of who decides is more important than the actual decision. “This is not a debate over is a toll good or bad, is a ferry fare increase good or bad, are car tab fees good or bad,” he recently told the Everett Herald. “It’s a question of who should decide.”

Eyman wants voters to decide. Many politicians, and many who want a government unlimited by voters, disrespectfully disagree.

What befuddles his opponents the most is Eyman’s pluck. He admits that he’s a little “obnoxious” at times. But he says citizens don’t get anywhere without some sort of “battering ram.”

Worse still, he enjoys the battle. He told Seattle Times columnist Bruce Ramsey, “I take a mischievous glee in being the greatest thorn in the side of people who desperately need to be humbled.”

There are those who diminish Tim Eyman as being in the political process only to make money. But they are far removed from reality. A man of Eyman’s talents could make a lot more money in a different pursuit. It’s hard to imagine that his pension — if he has one, which I doubt — would rival those snagged by run-of-the-mill Evergreen State government employees.

In fact, to gain the funding necessary to place this year’s I-1053 on the ballot, Tim took a second mortgage out on his home for $250,000. He still owes $237,000. It’s not something someone “in it for the money” would do.

It is something freedom-lovers all across the country should help him pay off.

Eyman’s success is a testament to his smarts, his tenacity and his hard work. It also testifies to the ballot initiative process, whereby citizens can reform government and change the law by taking an issue to the ballot box for a decision by their fellow citizens.

Hate Tim Eyman? I adore the man.


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.