Washington State Ballot Initiatives
Go Vote, and Tell Politicians Where They can Stick it
By Asa Kowals Rose
Election got you down? Are you bored by Hillary Clinton, and disgusted by Donald Trump? Is it so bad that you’re simply planning to write in “eat my ass” for every race on the ballot? Good news! In Washington State, voters have a way of circumventing those suit-clad garbage piles called politicians. Every year, Washingtonians send a wide array of policy proposals directly to voters in the form of ballot initiatives—a right guaranteed by the state constitution. In doing so, we can proudly tell politicians, “Eat a dick, scumbags; we’ll try to fix this stuff even if you’re lying asses won’t be coming along along for the ride.” Isn’t democracy great?
To be fair, there are some problems with the initiative process. Since initiatives are drafted by unelected citizens, they can sometimes be poorly written, overly vague, or logistically unworkable. In 2014, for example, Washington voters passed Initiative 1351, a measure designed to reduce class sizes in public schools. However, since the initiative lacked a funding mechanism, it could not be implemented once it was passed. Despite this, many supporters of the measure argued that it was still an important symbolic victory because it allowed voters to express their frustration with legislators’ inaction on education policy. Indeed, this ostensibly meaningless legislation illustrates the value of the initiative process as a means to express disapproval with elected leaders, in addition to its function as a means of enacting legislation.
These dual functions are why, despite its problems, the initiative process is a critical component of the politician-constituent relationship. Initiatives allow voters to work around legislative gridlock on issues that lawmakers refuse to act upon. Case in point: the joint I’m going to smoke in order to curb the blood-pressure spike I get from writing about our state legislature comes from a legal, tax-paying business, thanks to Initiative-502. Passed by voters in 2012, this measure was roundly criticized for some of its unclear language, which put the burden on state regulatory agencies to fill in the gaps. Nevertheless, Washington voters were able to give cowardly politicians the finger by enacting much-needed drug reform without their help. And guess what- this year, there are a whole lot more fingers you can give to those asshats in the state capitol. Here are a few you might find interesting.
I-732: Postponing our Inevitable Fiery Deaths
As most of you know, the planet is getting warmer as a result of rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. If you still somehow believe that climate change isn’t happening, I strongly encourage you do some basic research into the matter at your earliest convenience. I’m told that this is much easier to do once you’ve dislodged your head from your posterior. Got it? Good, because climate change is happening, and it’s gonna suck really bad no matter how much you try to ignore it.
Initiative 732 tries to address climate change in Washington by implementing a statewide carbon tax. Basically, this means that certain industries in the state would have to pay for each metric ton of carbon they release into the atmosphere. Over time, businesses would also have to either progressively lower their emissions in adherence to a carbon cap, or pay others to reduce theirs. Sounds good, right? Here’s the thing, though. Generally speaking, carbon taxes suuuuuuuuck. On one hand, the original idea for taxing carbon, rather than simply stopping corporations from slowly destroying the planet, came from conservative economists who wanted a capitalist solution to an environmental problem. In addition to this, carbon taxes are regressive, meaning that they disproportionately burden people with lower incomes. This is because industries affected by a carbon tax can simply transfer its cost to the price of their final product, such as gasoline, thereby raising the cost of living for poor and working class families.
I-732, however, isn’t just a carbon tax. It also includes policies designed to mitigate the problem of regressive taxation. In order to offset potential cost of living increases, the measure includes a tax rebate for low income families, as well as a one percent cut to the state sales tax—the mother of all regressive taxes. Given that Washington already has the most regressive tax system in the country, this sales tax cut could do some good. And because the revenue from taxing carbon is designed to offset the lost sales tax revenue, I-732 can make Washington’s tax system less regressive without sacrificing critical funding for education and health care. At the end of the day, will a carbon tax be the solution that stops climate change and puts us on a path to surviving the next century? Probably not. But for what it is, I-732 is pretty well thought out. And hey, we might as well try to postpone our imminent climatepocalypse for a few more years. At least until Game of Thrones is over.
I-735: A Nice Gesture about Money in Politics
Initiative 735 is pointless. Complete and utter bullshit. Period. The measure would urge Washington’s congressional delegation (the 12 sad sacks we send across the country to dine with lobbyists) to propose a constitutional amendment reversing the Citizens United decision. For those of you who have missed every Bernie Sanders speech over the past five years, Citizens United is a Supreme Court ruling that declared political spending a form of free speech, thereby allowing moneyed interests to openly buy politicians under the protection of the First Amendment. So this means that I-735 is an important step in stopping money in politics, right? No. The measure doesn’t actually force Washington’s congressional delegation propose an end to Citizens United; all it does is ask them nicely to do so. So why should you even waste the ink to bubble in a vote on this? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ But you might as well, since you’re already voting on ballot measures that actually mean something.
I-1433: Help low wage workers not starve
Initiative 1433 is pretty simple. It would raise the state minimum wage from $9.47 to $13.50 over the next four years. It would also require businesses to provide paid sick leave to their employees, so that the person making your Chipotle doesn’t come into work and start spreading some burrito-borne flu virus.
Are the reforms proposed by I-1433 adequate to provide minimum wage workers with a decent living? Not at all. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a full time worker would have to make $23.13 an hour in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Washington State. That’s even more than the $15 minimum wage that the City of Seattle passed in 2014. I-1433 isn’t a workers revolution—not even a half-assed one—but vote for it anyway, and keep on fighting to increase the minimum wage down the road. Tip generously in the meantime.
I-1464: Why should only rich people get to buy politicians?
This one’s a little counterintuitive. How do we solve the problem of too much money in politics? According to Initiative 1464, the solution is to put even more money in play. How would this work exactly? Some good, old fashioned socialism. If the initiative passes, every Washington voter would receive three $50 “democracy credits,” which they could donate to state house and senate candidates. In order to qualify for these credits, candidates would have to agree to limit their fundraising to half of the existing fundraising cap in their race.
Put simply, I-1464 seeks to democratize corruption. And let’s face it, democratic corruption would be a hell of a lot better than the constant politician-lobbyist orgy that characterizes our current political process. The measure would also put limits on former politicians’ ability to lobby the offices they held—a phenomenon known as the “revolving door.” All and all, I-1464 represents a positive step in curbing the influence of moneyed interests in our political process, even if it doesn’t change the fundamental problem of making politicians dependent on campaign donations. So go ahead and vote for it. And in a couple of years, you too will be able to buy a politician.
I-1491: Brace yourself: sensible gun control is coming
Gun violence is kind of a big problem in the country, but thanks to the zealotry of the gun lobby, passing any kind of gun control legislation has proved quite difficult in the past. In 2014, however, Washington voters bucked this trend by passing I-594, a measure that expanded background check requirements for gun purchases in the state. This year, that same pesky anti-murder lot have hatched yet another plan to cut down on gun deaths.
Initiative 1491 would allow law enforcement officials or family members to file petitions for extreme risk protection orders against individuals they deem to be a threat to themselves or others. Judges would then hold hearings to evaluate these petitions. If they choose to approve an extreme risk protection order, it would require the affected individual to relinquish their guns and bar them from purchasing or otherwise accessing firearms for one year. The measure is meant to keep guns away from individuals who have demonstrated violent behavior toward others, as well as those who might pose a risk to themselves due to mental illness. The measure could also be used to target mentally ill individuals who are considered a danger to others, though these cases are exceedingly rare. The vast majority of those suffering from mental illness do not exhibit violent behavior toward others, and are much more likely to become victims of violence instead.
In short, I-1491 is the epitome of a common sense gun control measure, which of course means that the NRA vehemently opposes it. The good news is that polls are showing that it’s likely to pass, so you should take this opportunity to add your voice to the millions already telling the gun fetishists at the NRA to go fuck themselves.
I-1501: You should really call your grandparents
Initiative 1501 is ostensibly meant to protect seniors and other vulnerable individuals, such as those with developmental disabilities, from crimes like identity theft, but that’s not really what the measure is about. Basically, the initiative is a pawn in a dispute between the Service Employees International Union and anti-union interests. It’s a long story, but the gist of it is that the SEIU filed the initiative in order to stop the libertarian Freedom Foundation from contacting home care workers and persuading them to stop paying union dues. The measure would accomplish this by exempting the personal data of state-employed home care workers from public records requests, which the Freedom Foundation has previously used to contact those workers.
If this sounds a little ridiculous, it’s because it is. So here’s the deal. If you are truly passionate about criminal penalties for identity theft against the elderly, you might consider looking further into I-1501. If you don’t, but would still like to help seniors, then maybe consider calling your own grandparents. They don’t hear from you enough, and it would really make their day if you spent some time catching up. Oh, and here’s a tip. When calling your grandparents, keep WebMD open so that you can keep up with all the gross medical shit they tell you about. Your grandfather will be so impressed with your newfound interest in his recent hemorrhoid surgery, he might even leave you his catheter collection in his will!