Tim Eyman’s Initiative on Initiatives Sparks Pushback

Oct 17, 2013

Over the years, Washington lawmakers have pondered ways to rein in the state’s initiative process. Now comes a ballot measure designed to make it easier to qualify for the ballot. Retailers and grocers are waving the “no” signs. But it’s Washington voters who will decide this initiative on initiatives next month.

Outside Haggen Foods in Olympia, shoppers come and go. But Jan Gee takes a stand against Initiative 517.

“Because legally, our stores would be stripped of their right to control activities on their private property,” Gee said.

Gee represents Washington’s independent grocers. If passed, Initiative 517 would make signature gathering a legally protected activity, including on sidewalks and walkways in front of store entrances. It would also make it a crime to interfere, inhibit or restrict a signature-gatherer in any way.

“So the rights of the customers not to be harassed and the rights of our stores not to have that activity on their property is stripped away,” Gee said.

I-517 is the brainchild of Washington’s chief initiative promoter, Tim Eyman, as well as Edward Agazarm, who once ran Washington’s largest signature-gathering firm. The language in the initiative is broad, especially when it comes to where signature gatherers can do their work.

But campaign spokesman Mark Baerwaldt insisted to me on TVW’s “Inside Olympia” program that “517 does not affect private property rights.”

Baerwaldt says private property owners could still say no to signature gatherers.

“It won’t change. You cannot petition at Costco today. You won’t be able to petition at Costco in the future,” he said.

Costco declined to comment. Needless to say, if the measure passes legal challenges are almost certain. Initiative 517 has two other provisions of note. One would extend the window for gathering signatures for an initiative from six months to a year. By contrast, Oregon allows two years.

And the initiative would also require a public vote on any local initiative that qualifies for the ballot even if there’s a pending legal challenge to that measure.