Sometimes the big issues that we are asked to vote on are the seemingly little ones buried at the bottom of the ballot. Because it has everything to do with our basic rights as citizens, including our right to vote, King County Charter Amendment 7 is one such issue.
In 1911, in response to a state government that had gotten out of touch with the electorate, populists amended the Washington State Constitution to create the right of initiative. That right simply acknowledges the bedrock of western democracy since the Magna Carta of the 10th Century: that political power resides with the people. Politicians -- whether it be kings from the Middle Ages who ruled, ostensibly, by divine right from God, and their entourage, or local elected officials in the 21st Century -- the powers that be have all chafed at that notion ever since. Why share power with the governed? Why be accountable to the people, of all people? Especially if you don't have to?
Charter Amendment 7 will double the number of signatures required for citizens to put an amendment to the King County Charter on the ballot. As one who has conducted initiative campaigns in King County on corporate welfare (stadium) issues, I can tell you that this requirement means only the richest, most well-funded campaigns will get onto the ballot. Amendment 7 is an end-game for ordinary citizen activists, for the change that comes from the grassroots.
Proponents say, the amendment prevents well-heeled campaigns from paying initiative gatherers to gather signatures and abusing the political process. The initiative campaigns that I have coordinated have largely used volunteers; however, some have used paid gatherers. From time to time, I have been a paid signature gatherer myself. There is a reason, a pretty basic one. I need to eat. My wife and I have a family to support. There are many others like me who work in politics who gather signatures. Should only the rich -- who can take time off from work -- gather signatures? What about the right to vote itself? Because people like you and I can't take time off from work to vote, to participate, shall we be dealt out of that game, too?
If such a huge number of signatures were required, none of these citizen initiatives would have received a public vote: public disclosure laws, performance audits of government, higher minimum wage, property tax limits, medical marijuana, sports stadium tax caps, smaller class sizes, a smaller King County council, a voter-picked elections officer, a nonpartisan council, lower car tabs, a smoking ban, clean energy, exempting food from the sales tax, higher teacher pay. Amendment 7 would prohibit the kind of citizen participation that allowed these issues a public vote. And it does not matter if they used paid signature gatherers; within the compressed time frame allowed by Charter Amendment 7 and the high number of signatures required, only a huge, and likely very well paid army of mercenaries would be able to qualify an issue for the ballot.
Charter Amendment 7 increases the number of signatures required from 10 to 20 percent -- from roughly 70,000 signatures to 140,000 signatures. In contemplating the change, as a member of the commission that has proposed this, former Governor Mike Lowry, said, "politically, that'd be a tough sell" to repeal the initiative process altogether; he and the other members of the commission told the Council to instead go with the Amendment 7 approach. The objective was the same: eliminate the right of the people to amend the Charter. And if you can't ban it, politically, make amending it by initiative physically impossible to do.
Since 2003, when the State Supreme Court issued its unanimous ruling recognizing King County citizens' guaranteed right to the initiative, there have been four on the ballot:
* I-18: decreased the size of the King County Council from 13 positions to nine; approved
* I-24: created the King County Citizen's council; approved
* I-25: having King County's elections officer publicly elected; approved
* I-26: making county elected positions non-partisan; approved
Each initiative was popular with voters but unpopular with the county executive, the prosecutor, and the nine members of the County Council. That's the real reason Charter Amendment 7 made its way to the ballot.
The Constitution gives the people our right to vote. That right is grounded in the Magna Carta and the right of petition, the right of initiative. Many people, many soldiers, many Americans have paid for that right with their blood. This is the most important issue on the November ballot, because it is all about the ballot itself. On initiative issues, exercising our voting right is tough enough already. Don't let the the politicians take it away. VOTE NO on King County Charter Amendment 7. Keep political power where it belongs, with the people.
Chris Van Dyk is co-chair of Citizens for More Important Things, the sponsor of King County Initiative 16, the 1996 campaign that required a public vote on funding for pro sports stadiums.