Eyman’s I-517 may have lost him key support in future

OLYMPIA — Tim Eyman may wind up losing more from this month’s election than just an initiative.

The Mukilteo resident’s last ballot measure put him at deep odds with longtime allies in the business community, and it could take a while to regain their trust — and their all-important financial support.

Some, like the Washington Food Industry Association, vow to sever ties completely after the battle on Initiative 517, which voters overwhelmingly defeated. It would have given signature-gatherers nearly unfettered access to grocers’ private property.

“There’s a whole bunch of us very active in the business community saying no more,” said Jan Gee, the president and chief executive officer of the group, who also helped manage the No on 517 campaign. “We will not be giving Tim money to do an initiative or do a campaign.”

Eyman acknowledged it was a mistake to include language that would have expanded where signature-gathering could occur.

“If I had to do it again over again, I wouldn’t have put any of that stuff in there,” he said. “It is what it is.”

But he seemed nonplussed at the idea the food industry association and other business groups would go their own way on initiatives.

“Every initiative is a la carte. Everyone is free to support the ones they like and not support the ones they don’t like,” he said.

There are others in the business community wary of associating with Eyman, but not as resolutely against doing so as Gee.

“I can’t really say one way, or another, what our relationship in the future with Tim Eyman will be,” said Jan Teague, president and chief executive officer of the Washington Retail Association.

“I will say if he wants to engage in policy that deals with our industry, it would make some sense that he talk to us, and he didn’t. I am hoping that would be a lesson he takes to heart,” she said.

Gee said members of the opposition coalition are encouraging leaders of the Association of Washington Business to steer clear of Eyman.

That would be significant because the AWB — the largest statewide business association with 8,100 members — has been a major financial supporter of Eyman’s last two successful initiatives: I-1053 in 2010 and 1-1185 in 2012. Both measures require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to raise taxes.

In 2010, the AWB set up an independent committee to help qualify and pass the measure. It spent $617,000 in the effort. That year, Gee’s group contributed $5,000 directly to Eyman’s political committee.

In 2012, AWB contributed $112,000 in cash to Eyman’s organization and provided roughly $450,000 of in-kind donations to help qualify the initiative. That money went directly to the professional signature-gathering firm hired by Eyman.

Given their long ties, AWB leaders aren’t ready to turn their back on him.

“I guess I’d have to say it would depend on the issue,” Jocelyn McCabe, vice president of communication wrote in an email.

“As you know, we have supported some of his initiatives in the past … but AWB did not support his most recent measure, I-517,” she wrote. “So we can’t rule it out entirely; it would largely depend on the issue.”

Eyman said the business community benefits greatly from the anti-tax measures he pushes and would be surprised if they could find anyone to achieve the success he’s had.

They’ve “got a lot of good stuff” out of us, he said.

Jerry Cornfield: 360352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com

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