Tim Eyman isn’t going away, despite I-1033 loss

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Initiative promoter Tim Eyman’s solid loss on an anti-tax measure — a topic that’s delivered his biggest successes over the years — is sure to ignite another round of political obituaries for the state’s top ballot-box activist.

The reality is, Eyman may never go away.

While Washington voters have increasingly handed the controls of state government to Democrats in recent years, they’ve also kept Eyman hanging around as a counterweight, granting him periodic victories that frustrate the establishment’s agenda.

In fact, it seems almost odd to say this, considering his roots as a populist outsider and noisy contrarian. But Eyman’s Mukilteo direct-democracy factory is now simply part of Washington state’s political routine.

He’ll inevitably chalk up some losses, sometimes failing to qualify for the ballot at all. But eventually, Eyman and Co. hit upon an idea that resonates with independent voters and gives government fits.

“We’re kind of like rain in Seattle,” Eyman said Wednesday. “You might not like it, but you might as well get used to it, because we’re not going anywhere.”

Make no mistake, this year’s loss was something unusual. It’s not often that Eyman misreads the electorate’s appetite for his bread and butter, an anti-tax initiative.

But he clearly overreached with Initiative 1033, which would have slapped growth caps on state, county and city checking accounts while doling out property tax cuts and putting any tax hikes on the ballot.

As anti-Eyman activist Andrew Villeneuve happily pointed out on Election Night, I-1033 was Eyman’s first loss on an anti-tax initiative, his first defeat in an off-year election, and the first time he’s lost at the ballot two years in a row.

But nevertheless, Villeneuve concluded, “This victory does not mean an end to Tim Eyman.”

“I don’t think he’s going anywhere,” agreed Scott Whiteaker, spokesman for the successful No on I-1033 campaign.

I-1033 seemed like a promising plan for Eyman, who organized the measure with his regular Spokane partners, Jack and Mike Fagan.

As a smaller-government project wrapped in the promise of reduced property taxes, it could have been well-positioned to win among voters who have seen home values plummet while hearing politicians float tax hikes as a possible salve for service cuts.

Several weeks from Election Day, both camps had polls showing I-1033 with a significant lead. But as of Wednesday evening, I-1033 was losing by a margin of about 56 percent to 44 percent.

The swift turnaround was fueled by an extremely well-financed opposition campaign, which put about $3.5 million into TV ads, direct mail, and more. Public-sector unions made major contributions, joined by big names in business, including Microsoft Corp. and its co-founder, Bill Gates.

But political analysts also were pointing to the negative reaction I-1033 garnered from local governments, which are much closer to voters’ everyday lives and perhaps harder to malign than the bureaucrats and politicians in Olympia or Washington, D.C.

“There’s a lot of folks around the state who, while they very much disapprove of the overspending on the federal and state levels, have a better opinion of their county government and their city government,” said state Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser, whose group endorsed I-1033.

Indeed, that seemed like a likely explanation for I-1033’s losses in some strongly conservative areas of Eastern Washington, including Yakima County and virtually the entire southeastern corner of the state.

“When you have locally elected officials that people know and trust saying, ‘Look, this is actually going to be pretty devastating,’ and they can’t be branded as tax-and-spend liberals, I think that really says something,” said Whiteaker, the No on I-1033 spokesman.

For his part, Eyman was chagrined by the loss, but not necessarily downcast. He was focused on the fact that I-1033 was still pulling in hundreds of thousands of yes votes, despite a typically shoestring general election campaign that focused on free media exposure. That tally should serve as a warning to the Legislature, he said, that voters aren’t necessarily ready for higher taxes.

Oh, and about next year? Eyman was already promising to take the lessons of I-1033’s defeat to heart as he starts laying the groundwork for his next measure.

“The next initiative that we’ll do is going to address the state government only, and it’s going to try and say, ‘Hey guys, don’t even think about raising taxes,”’ he said.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Members of Gravitics' team and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen stand in front of a mockup of a space module interior on Thursday, August 17, 2023 at Gravitics' Marysville facility. Left to right: Mark Tiner, government affairs representative; Jiral Shah, business development; U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen; Mike DeRosa, marketing; Scott Macklin, lead engineer. (Gravitics.)
Marysville startup prepares for space — the financial frontier

Gravitics is building space station module prototypes to one day house space travelers and researchers.

Orca Mobility designer Mike Lowell, left, and CEO Bill Messing at their office on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023 in Granite Falls, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Could a Granite Falls startup’s three-wheeler revolutionize delivery?

Orca Mobility’s battery-powered, three-wheel truck is built on a motorcycle frame. Now, they aim to make it self-driving.

Catherine Robinweiler leads the class during a lab session at Edmonds College on April 29, 2021. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Grant aids apprenticeship program in Mukilteo and elsewhere

A $5.6 million U.S. Department of Labor grant will boost apprenticeships for special education teachers and nurses.

Peoples Bank is placing piggy banks with $30 around Washington starting Aug. 1.
(Peoples Bank)
Peoples Bank grant program seeks proposals from nonprofits

Peoples Bank offers up to $35,000 in Impact Grants aimed at helping communities. Applications due Sept. 15.

Workers build the first all-electric commuter plane, the Eviation Alice, at Eviation's plant on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021 in Arlington, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Arlington’s Eviation selects Seattle firm to configure production plane

TLG Aerospace chosen to configure Eviation Aircraft’s all-electric commuter plane for mass production.

Jim Simpson leans on Blue Ray III, one of his designs, in his shop on Friday, August 25, 2023, in Clinton, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Whidbey Island master mechanic building dream car from “Speed Racer”

Jim Simpson, 68, of Clinton, is using his knowledge of sports cars to assemble his own Mach Five.

An Amazon worker transfers and organizes items at the new PAE2 Amazon Fulfillment Center on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Arlington, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Amazon cuts ribbon on colossal $355M fulfillment center in Arlington

At 2.8 million square feet, the facility is the largest of its kind in Washington. It can hold 40 million “units” of inventory.

A computer rendering of the North Creek Commerce Center industrial park in development at 18712 Bothell-Everett Highway. (Kidder Mathews)
Developer breaks ground on new Bothell industrial park

The North Creek Commerce Center on Bothell Everett Highway will provide warehouse and office space in three buildings.

Dan Bates / The Herald
Funko president, Brian Mariotti is excited about the growth that has led his company to need a 62,000 square foot facility in Lynnwood.
Photo Taken: 102312
Former Funko CEO resigns from the Everett company

Brian Mariotti resigned Sept. 1, six weeks after announcing he was taking a six-month sabbatical from the company.

Cash is used for a purchase at Molly Moon's Ice Cream in Edmonds, Washington on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Paper or plastic? Snohomish County may require businesses to take cash

County Council member Nate Nehring proposed an ordinance to ban cashless sales under $200. He hopes cities will follow suit.

A crowd begins to form before a large reception for the opening of Fisherman Jack’s at the Port of Everett on Wednesday, August 30, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Seafood with a view: Fisherman Jack’s opens at Port of Everett

“The port is booming!” The new restaurant is the first to open on “restaurant row” at the port’s Waterfront Place.

Tanner Mock begins unwrapping new furniture that has been delivered on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
In Everett, new look, new name for mainstay Behar’s Furniture

Conlin’s Furniture, based in South Dakota, bought the huge store and celebrates with a grand opening this week.