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In other words

If we’re up to the responsibility of a pure democracy, which is deciding directly by popular vote on all policy matters, then the rationale for Tim Eyman’s latest – which would seek to overturn the gay rights bill just passed by the Washington Legislature – would make some sense.

But doing away with representative government altogether never has been much on the agenda. Do all of us have time to educate ourselves and carefully consider the hundreds of policy decisions that come to legislatures, councils, commissions and the rest every year? In initiative-heavy states, not many voters even do so dandy a job of self-education on the issues. (Don’t get us started on self-education re the candidates.)

So here we have Eyman delivering a statement to the press saying this: “Politicians are deciding based on special interest group pressure and their own reelection calculations … The voters have watched this disgusting display of arrogance and selfishness for weeks.”

Putting his point in different words: Politicians have been listening to people who petition their governmental policymakers (something encouraged in the federal constitution) and have been bearing in mind “their own reelection calculations” – which means they are bearing in mind whether their constituents will favor or oppose their actions. Horrors!

Eyman is even more explicit, though, in his actual initiative, numbered 927.

Sec. 1. The people oppose important public policy changes being made without voter approval. The voters want an open debate where both sides are given the opportunity to have their voices heard and to persuade the voters on the issues involved. And after months of deliberation and discussion, the voters want to have the final say so that the decision can be made without fear of retaliation or intimidation. The people oppose the government forcing anyone to impose quotas, set-asides, or other preferential treatment for any group. This measure would prohibit state government from requiring any school, church, employer, or other public or private entity to impose quotas, set-asides, or other preferential treatment to any individual or group based on sexual orientation or sexual preference. Sexual orientation or sexual preference shall not be a specially protected class. The inclusion of this group as a protected class is preferential treatment over other groups not included in this chapter, such as military status,
income level, medical history, or political party membership. The people do not support preferential treatment because the people do not want it to be used as a basis for requiring the legalization of same-sex marriage. This issue has become hopelessly politicized in Olympia. Politicians aren’t thinking about what the voters want. Let the voters decide.

In other words, the legislature has no place in making law: only the voters at the ballot do. In other words, presumably, the legislature is best done away with.

When the initiative process was created and spread, the idea was that it would serve as a safety valve and, maybe, a warning vote – something to ensure that the legislative process would not become so fouled up that the people could not express their will, or – in extreme cases – force action. It has never been held up as the preferred mechanism – and given its history in the last few decades, has little claim on the time – for legislating.

Till now.

The specific subject of Eyman’s latest enterprise, which has to do with gay civil rights, may be its less wild-eyed component.

State legislatures seldom are popular, and Washington’s doesn’t have enthusiastic cheerleaders in the streets. But do the people of Washington really want to take on the whole job themselves? Before answering in the affirmative – or passing an initiative that embraces the proposition – the good voters of Washington probably should consider just how many hundreds of hours a years they are willing to devote to civic legislation. It might cause them to appreciate their legislators just a little bit more.

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