EVERETT — For two weeks he stood in front of businesses wielding a clipboard and a pen.
Mike Pitts, a tall silver-haired Texan with long arms and a toothy smile, didn’t falter when people ignored or shooed him away.
“I turn around and go to the next person,” he said.
Pitts said he earned up to $5 each for the signatures he gathered for four initiatives seeking a spot on a future Washington ballot. He was part of a swarm of contract workers with clipboards at stores, ferry lines, farmers markets and other high-traffic places in recent weeks.
The swarm is all but gone.
Signatures for three of the four measures will be turned in this week to the secretary of state. To qualify for the November ballot, the sponsors must submit valid signatures of at least 259,622 registered voters. The deadline is 5 p.m. Friday.
Guns, groceries, car tabs and carbon emissions are buzzwords for Pitts, a former massage therapist and bell bottoms salesman. After 10 years on the national signature collecting circuit, he’s got a system.
“I hand them a petition and if they take it, then I hand them a pen,” said Pitts, 64. “I make it short and sweet.”
Time is money and that’s why he came here, pounding the pavement six to 10 hours a day.
“Usually, I’m happy to make $300 a day,” he said.
He’s not always happy.
Pitts said his two weeks in Washington cost him $1,300 in hotel and rental car expenses.
He said he would get $5 for each signature for Initiative 1639 about firearm restrictions and another $5 for each signature for Initiative 1634 banning local grocery taxes.
Car tab signatures only pay 75 cents, he said. That may be because that initiative, a $30 car tab measure pushed by Tim Eyman of Mukilteo, doesn’t face an immediate deadline as it is aimed for the November 2019 ballot.
Meanwhile, at noon Monday, sponsors of Initiative 1631, which would levy a new fee on carbon emissions on some of the state’s larger emitters, plan to submit petitions containing 365,000 signatures.
Also Monday, at 3 p.m., backers of Initiative 1639 are scheduled to deliver their signatures. This measure concerns firearm restrictions. It would require background checks, proof of firearm training and waiting periods for the purchase of semiautomatic assault rifles. It also would raise the age to 21 to buy a semiautomatic rifle and require safe storage of weapons.
On Thursday, those pushing Initiative 1634 will be bringing their petitions to the Secretary of State at 11 a.m. This measure, if passed, would prevent local governments from imposing new taxes on groceries or raising existing taxes on food and beverages, including soda.
Outside the Everett Mall Way Walmart last week, the gun measure was the one costing signature-gatherer Lourdes Coria most of her time.
“Keep in mind we’re not taking the guns away, sir,” Coria told a man, after he said there was absolutely no way he’d sign the petition. “I don’t want you to be misinformed.”
She spent 10 minutes with the man, trying to explain the ballot measure, missing the opportunity to sign up other shoppers.
Coria, 57, a former school photographer who lives in Burbank, California, calls the job a “passion.”
“You can make a living, but more than anything you make a difference,” she said. “I came here to get this on the ballot for you guys. Let the people and the voters decide. I don’t want to persuade you on the vote. But I want you to put your voice there.”
She often works 12-hour days. “That’s how you conquer an area,” she said. “I’m not here to rest. We’re here to work. I rest between.”
Coria is “energetic and outgoing,” qualities listed in job posts seeking signers. She takes it up a notch. She uses “sir” and “ma’am” when she approaches strangers.
“It’s important that you listen to that person and give that person the respect,” she said.
“Please” and “thank you” are part of her vernacular. And, “Let me get that pen back, please.”
She and her cohorts go through a lot of pens.
Coria would not say how much she is paid. “You have to discuss it with the client,” she said.
She wouldn’t identify the organization. Pitts said he wasn’t sure which outfit he was working for this time. Someone called him and he came, he said.
Both were in Washington two years ago for similar work.
Four other signature gatherers at the store collecting names and in the Mukilteo ferry line would not give their own to The Daily Herald.
Sponsors of all three measures angling for the November 2018 ballot could pay attractive amounts for each signature because they have brought in ample funding for their efforts.
As of June 28, backers of I-1634 had collected $4.7 million in contributions, according to online records of the state Public Disclosure Commission. Of the total, $2.7 million came from The Coca-Cola Co. and $1.7 million from PepsiCo.
Those pushing I-639 reported bringing in $2.5 million as of that date. Paul Allen, a Microsoft founder, and Nick Hanauer, a venture capitalist, have provided $1 million apiece.
Supporters of I-1631 reported raising $2.2 million as of last week with The Nature Conservancy leading the way with $640,000 in cash and in-kind contributions.
For signature gatherers like Coria and Pitts, there are plenty of gigs to be had in other states.
After a pit-stop back in Burbank to see her kids and grandkids, Coria plans to head to a Walmart or sidewalk somewhere in Arkansas. Or Colorado. Or Ohio.
“You decide where you want to go,” she said. “It’s not a cult. It’s the election.”
Pitts is taking a vacation away from politics.
“I’m going to my timeshare in Branson, Missouri, and taking in a couple of shows,” he said.