“Help me get my B.S. in the voters pamphlet,” read the subject-line of Tim Eyman’s email.
Eyman is a practitioner of the art of the voter initiative, foremost in his state, Washington, and one of the most effective nationwide. In fact, he was once dubbed “America’s No. 1 Freedom Fighter” . . . in this very column.
His 16 statewide initiatives beginning in 1998 — 10 of which voters approved — have cut taxes, blocked tax increases, directed the state auditor to conduct performance audits and ended racial and gender preferences in state education and employment. Washington state citizens have saved $35.65 billion — yes, make that a “B” and an “S” for “Billions Saved” — directly from his ballot measures.
This particular call to action concerned the voters’ pamphlet statements about Proposition 1, a sales tax increase placed on this November’s ballot by the mayor and city council in Tim’s hometown of Mukilteo. Sent to every registered voter, the voters’ pamphlet is a critical element of communication on ballot issues — and is free to the campaigns.
The proponents for Prop 1 argued in their statement: “The fact the city needs more money for street maintenance, sidewalks, and bike lanes is indisputable.”
In his rebuttal, Eyman annihilated that assertion, writing, “Politicians always say the need for higher taxes is ‘indisputable.’ We call B.S. on that.”
That is rather to the point.
But soon he received word from the city: “The Auditor feels the language is inappropriate and would like you to choose different wording. Using the language ‘We call foul’ would be acceptable, but you may prefer something else.”
“We call foul” . . . ? Really?
Eyman objected, of course. He pointed out that B.S. is used ubiquitously; he sent the city numerous examples.
“I called the ACLU,” his email noted, and “they thought it was B.S. for the government to say you can’t say B.S.”
Eyman’s own attorney, Stephen Pidgeon, BS’ed (briskly sent) the city a letter, pointing out that this is “exactly the speech protected under the First Amendment.” Pidgeon also argued, “[M]y client’s use of the initials BS, an inexplicit colloquialism, . . . contains no vulgarity on its face and is broadly accepted as challenging the veracity of a statement.”
Lastly, Pidgeon offered this nugget: “While the pious may construe the inference of these two alphabetic avatars as meaning something crude, my client may very well have been referencing an ancient Latin phrase ‘Bubulum Stercus’ which no average voter would ever find inappropriate.”
Nevertheless, Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel holds fast to her opinion of Eyman’s BS phraseology: “I believe it is vulgar and inappropriate.”
“I don’t think I’m being a prude,” she added. “This is an election publication and I believe voters expect . . . a higher level of discussion than what Mr. Eyman has put forward.”
“It is so tame. It is so G-rated. It is so mundane,” countered Eyman. “Truly this is insane for the government to be able to micromanage free speech in a political debate. We live in a free society where people over 18 can communicate political ideas and can do so without the government playing Nanny and scold.”
On Friday, Dillon Honcoop, a host on KGMI radio in Bellingham, Washington, invited Eyman on air to discuss the issue. After finding every opportunity imaginable to say, “B.S.,” Eyman referenced the late comedian George Carlin’s “seven words you can’t say on television.”
“Have we been bleeped, what we’ve said, ‘B.S.,’ at any point?” asked Eyman
“Well, no,” acknowledged the host, who assured: “My finger is on the trigger here.”
“But think about that,” Eyman chortled. “In the headline of a newspaper story they use the word ‘B.S.’ I mean think about the irony of this thing.”
Under this same logic, Eyman noted that the word “snafu,” which originated as a military acronym (S.N.A.F.U.), would also be off limits as profanity.
The City of Mukilteo has yet to announce a final decision. Auditor Weikel has asked for legal advice — a very wise move.