Will Eyman sit it out this election cycle?

OLYMPIA — It’s mid-March and Tim Eyman isn’t running around the state proselytizing on an initiative.

Could this be a year Mukilteo’s initiative impresario doesn’t try to push an initiative onto the ballot?

Probably not, though, with each passing day the challenge for him getting a measure in front of voters grows. With an ever shrinking time frame to collect the required 241,000 voter signatures, he’ll need a hot idea plus a boatload of money to hire professionals to gather those names.

“We know time’s ticking,” the Mukilteo resident said in a recent interview. “I’d be surprised if we didn’t do an initiative. There’s never been a year where we haven’t tried.

“It really is a huge struggle getting that many signatures. Even if you have money, you need to have an issue people care about,” he said. “You don’t do an initiative if you don’t think the voters are on your side.”

He said last week he is in the research and development stage and won’t decide anything until he sees what state lawmakers do in the special session. Given they may be at it into April, it could mean not circulating petitions until late next month. He’ll need to turn in 241,153 valid signatures of registered voters by July 6.

Eyman filed paperwork in January for several measures including limiting lawmakers’ ability to raise taxes and banning red-light cameras without voter approval. On March 12, he filed updated versions of each.

He called the red-light camera measure “insanely attractive” because opposition to them cuts across political lines. There’s been renewed interest since the state Supreme Court ruled local initiatives cannot be used to create new laws restricting red-light traffic camera programs. That decision came in response to an Eyman measure in his hometown.

On the other hand, he said, “the best thing we can do for taxpayers” is make sure there is a law requiring a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to raise taxes. Voters passed Initiative 1053 in 2010 but initiatives can be rewritten by lawmakers after two years, hence his worry.

“We know we’ve got lots of options we’re looking at,” he said. “We haven’t had that epiphany that this one or that one is obviously the one.”

That “epiphany” will come when the initiative promoter finds a financial backer, said Christian Sinderman, a Democratic consultant who’s waged campaigns against several Eyman initiatives.

“He’s idea shopping and looking for someone to pay for it,” he said. “The base price for an initiative is half a million dollars. Every day that goes by, the marginal cost of those signatures goes up. For a potential sugar daddy, you’re not giving Tim half a million, you’re giving him a million.”

Those who watch, monitor and do battle with Eyman know it’s way too soon to count him out of the 2012 picture because he always seems to land a whale of an investor in his causes.

“What we’ve seen in recent years is that powerful conservative interests with money buy their way onto the ballot easily,” said Aaron Ostrom, executive director of Fuse Washington, a coalition of progressive groups. “So, unless or until every wealthy conservative says they will not give Tim Eyman a dime, we’re not out of the woods yet.”

In 2011, Eyman authored Initiative 1125 dealing with tolls and toll revenue. He didn’t start getting signatures until April and it wasn’t going well until Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman arrived with his wallet.

The measure included language aimed at keeping light rail trains off I-90, an idea Freeman had been fighting to do for years. He wound up contributing nearly $1.1 million in May and June to make sure it got on the ballot. Voters did turn it down.

“Last year he found Kemper Freeman,” Sinderman said. “He’s got to find someone new and the clock is ticking.”

Eyman said he doesn’t look for a financial backer before settling on a measure.

“The way we tend to do it is this one feels right this cycle,” he said. “What you really just need to do is jump off the cliff and say this is the one we’re doing and are you in or are you out.”

In 2010, Eyman ended up pouring major money into getting that measure on the ballot. Voters Want More Choices, an Eyman-guided political committee, and Citizens for Responsible Spending, a political action committee funded by businesses, spent a combined $860,000 to qualify the measure.

Eyman took out a second mortgage on his home and steered the $250,000 toward paying the petition professionals.

“That’s nothing I want to do again, ever,” said Eyman, who is still paying off the debt. “In the long run, I’ve got no regrets. If we hadn’t done that, jiminy crickets, they’d be passing taxes left and right in Olympia.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com

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