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    In defense of two pariahs

    Some moderately kind words for Joe Lieberman and Tim Eyman, and why they retain their popularity with voters.
    Tim Eyman, head of Washington's government-in-exile

    Tim Eyman, head of Washington's government-in-exile Permanent Offense

    Why not blast Sen. Joe Lieberman and ballot-measure king Tim Eyman outspokenly and regularly? Those were questions I got via several personal e-mails in response to my plea for greater civility in a beginning-of-a-new-decade essay.

    There is nothing wrong with blasting public figures. But when the blasting goes beyond criticism of their public stances, and instead is personally insulting or abusive, all of us are diminished. Eyman today, you tomorrow. At any rate, here's a word about Lieberman and Eyman, perhaps the most pilloried figures by local columnists and bloggers.

    Joe Lieberman was an effective Connecticut attorney general who was elected to the U.S. Senate by a landslide. He is among the half-dozen brainiest members of that 100-member body. In 2000 he was the Democratic Party's vice-presidential nominee. He has a wonderful sense of humor, is a committed family man, and is well respected by both Democratic and Republican colleagues. Lieberman, not surprisingly, is a strong supporter of Israel and has national security views not unlike those of former Washington Sen. Henry (Scoop) Jackson. He campaigned for Sen. John McCain in 2008 because of their shared national-security views.

    Lieberman now is an Independent. He did not switch parties, as some officeholders have. Instead, he was defeated in a Democratic primary for his Connecticut Senate seat by a more leftish Democrat. He thus chose to run, in the general campaign, against both the Democratic and Republican Party nominees and defeated both handily. His constituents wanted to keep him in office. On return to the Senate, he chose to caucus with Democrats rather than Republicans, enabling them to maintain a filibuster-proof majority.

    Recently he was the target of media and political broadsides because he (as well as several other Senate Democrats) opposed inclusion of a "public option" in pending health-care legislation. The public-option was deleted from the Senate version of the legislation, as had always been the expectation. Several other Senate Democrats extracted huge financial benefits for their states as their price for building a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority for the health-care bill. But they were not subjected to the rage directed against Lieberman.

    I disagree with Lieberman on many issues. But I have no reason to believe that his views on any policy, including health policy, do not have a thought-through intellectual basis. I know him to be an honest man. If his voters don't like his performance, they can reject him when he seeks reelection.

    Tim Eyman nettles state and local elected officials, and most local media commentators, because he insistently introduces ballot measures that would limit public spending or taxing. I dislike ballot measures in general, believing them to be easily manipulated by single-issue or single-interest groups as a way around deliberative executive/legislative policymaking. They have contributed greatly to California's intensive-care status and, in general, invite elected officials to buck politically difficult decisions to an electorate often ill-prepared to assess them. (One egregious example was the ballot measure asking voters to choose the most desirable alternative to the Alaskan Way Viaduct.).

    But we should recognize that our state and city have become notorious for careless tax-and-spending policies. Influential corporations and sectors get huge public tax breaks that cut a hole in the state revenue base. The state tax code is highly regressive, laying heavy burdens on middle-income taxpayers, homeowners, and small-business owners. Public employee and teachers unions, with high political clout, get pay and benefit raises even when private-sector workers are losing their jobs. In Seattle, huge capital projects get launched without regard for our ability to pay for them. Both the state and city budgets remain deeply in the red. It is estimated that our state government will run out of money in nine months unless taxing and spending adjustments are made in this legislative session.

    If our elected officials cannot make responsible taxing and spending decisions, what can be done that would be better than Eyman initiatives? My own solution would be to throw them out and elect replacements. But many have "safe" seats and are hard to displace. Thus we get Eyman's ballot-measure solution: If these guys won't do their job, he says, let's set up inflexible taxing and spending limits that will force them to do tighten belts.

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    Posted Thu, Jan 7, 3:29 p.m. Inappropriate

    I've no doubt that one could warn readers about the pit-falls of political-scapegoating without injecting a provocative personality such as Eyman into the discussion. Seriously, how far did you intend to take this discussion?

    Posted Thu, Jan 7, 3:51 p.m. Inappropriate

    Just trying to provoke thought, Fly. Eyman gets pasted regularly by media, public officials, and those who depend on public spending. Yet he keeps getting votes for his ballot measures. Why is that? I am no fan of his. But, as I said, Eyman exists only because those we elect keep giving voters reason to support him.

    Posted Thu, Jan 7, 4:19 p.m. Inappropriate

    Eyman exists because Mike Dunmire underwrites him and his work. A wingnut with a vision to turn the mossy corner into a mountainous version of Mississippi.
    And Lieberman campaigned as a champion of health care reform in. 2006, telling voters he'd that as a senior senator he'd be better positioned to make it happen. He also sucker punched Reid on the Medicare buy-in weeks prior to saying he'd filibuster a bill with that option (after having introduced a bill to do away with filibusters as anti-democratic in '96). Oh yes, he was also anti-war in that campaign, now he makes noises about making war in Yemen. He's dishonest, and if calling him that is an offense against civility, fine.
    Incidently, his approval numbers at home are in the Bush zone. Seems like voters in the Nutmeg state don't like being lied to.


    Posted Thu, Jan 7, 5:06 p.m. Inappropriate

    Here's an interesting factoid that a reporter noted to me recently: when legislators go hog wild raising taxes in a given year, our initiatives that year tend to be approved. when legislators don't increase taxes, our initiatives either don't get on the ballot or aren't approved.

    our I-960 in 2007 -- which required 2/3's legislative approval for tax increases -- passed and took effect in 2007. in 2008 and 2009, the Legislature didn't raise taxes because of it. When they weren't raising taxes in 2008 and 2009, we got initiatives on the ballot those two years -- both didn't pass. hmmmmmm.

    In 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002, we got an initiative on the ballot every year and each one was approved. In 2003, Gov Locke and Rossi closed a $2.7 billion deficit without raising taxes -- that was the 1st year one of our initiatives didn't qualify for the ballot.

    This year, Gregoire and the D's promise to gut I-960 to make it easier for them to raise taxes. Our 2010 initiative reinstates the 2/3's requirement for tax increases. if they want to take the oxygen out of this initiative, all they have to do is the fiscally responsible thing: don't increase taxes, don't hurt struggling taxpayers, don't hurt our state's fragile economy.



    Posted Thu, Jan 7, 5:37 p.m. Inappropriate

    "In Seattle, huge capital projects get launched without regard for our ability to pay for them."

    Sound Transit's ST2 projects were launched with a sufficient financing plan. We have the "ability to pay" - ST's weekly tax revenue take is about $10 million. The plan also includes ST selling $8 billion worth of bonds. There will be plenty of money for ST to pay the bills.


    Posted Thu, Jan 7, 7:19 p.m. Inappropriate

    More like provoke a reaction! On the political plane, Eyman is the nutritional equivalent to High-Fructose Corn Syrup. The mention of his name triggers an emotional reaction and patterned thinking; any broader significance likely filtered as noise.

    What I find ironic is your persistent blame of "bloggers" for the state of the civic discourse, as you engage in the sort of push button tactics from a medium that is essentially a blog with a narrow, Seattle-centric perspective.

    The fact is the current elected's will not respond proactively, because such a response would run counter to the interests that put them in office. Eyman, on the other hand, will always generate traffic to liberal web-sites, but not much thought.

    Posted Thu, Jan 7, 7:33 p.m. Inappropriate

    False alarm, this has nothing to do with me.

    Mr Baker

    Posted Thu, Jan 7, 9:01 p.m. Inappropriate

    "But we should recognize that our state and city have become notorious for careless tax-and-spending policies."

    What about King County? The SAO found problems with that government - in that area.


    Posted Thu, Jan 7, 9:13 p.m. Inappropriate

    "Tim Eyman nettles state and local elected officials, and most local media commentators, because he insistently introduces ballot measures that would limit public spending or taxing."

    That's not true either. That guy is all for certain types of public spending and taxing - the public spending and taxing local governments engage in.

    Local elected officials, and the folks making money off local taxing and spending, think he's the greatest. They could be writing his scripts. The financiers of big money local government infrastructure projects in particular think the guy is excellent; everything he does furthers their aims. Nothing he does is meant to curb local government taxing and spending.

    The whole goal of the people making money off local taxation measures is "no limits on taxing and spending" and T.E. supports them.


    Posted Thu, Jan 7, 9:27 p.m. Inappropriate

    "If our elected officials cannot make responsible taxing and spending decisions, what can be done that would be better than Eyman initiatives?"

    Stupid question.

    Here are some answers to it. Tax revenue spending limits in the local laws. Tax collection limits in the local laws. Bond selling limits in the local laws. Local governments headed by elected - not appointed - officials.

    On the state level it's a different story. The spending on employees seems to suck up a disproportionate amount of revenue. McGinn and Holmes just came in and axed a bunch of positions at the City of Seattle. Should the state cut 10% of its workforce in a comparable way (mostly from the higher ranks) we'll have a better idea of what else needs to be done. The fact that this hasn't happened in 20 years means it is way overdue.

    It isn't brain surgery.


    Posted Thu, Jan 7, 9:30 p.m. Inappropriate

    "His performance-audit measure, approved overwhelmingly by state voters, has in fact been quite successful in exposing shoddy practices at state and local public agencies."

    You really are full of it . . ..

    Pull out the 2007 I-900 audit report of Sound Transit. Let me know when you have a copy. We'll discuss it.


    Posted Fri, Jan 8, 8 a.m. Inappropriate

    "A wingnut with a vision to turn the mossy corner into a mountainous version of Mississippi."

    Who is fighting the wingnuts with a vision to turn the mossy corner into a more northward - but equally bankrupt - version of California.


    Posted Fri, Jan 8, 8:40 a.m. Inappropriate

    what might tim eyman and joe lieberman have in common except that the last syllable of their surname and that both have their detractors to be mentioned together so speciously? liebermann is the senator from the insurance industry, hartford, conn. and is entirely beholden to several other interest groups.
    eyman is the necessary gadly in an environment that lacks investigative journalism. he is beholden only to his own gadflydom. e.g. if a pulitzer prize might serve as enticement for the newspapers hereabouts, all the smoke that was pouring out of stories about the port of seattle under mic dinsmore, you'd think a paper might have really put someone to track it down. instead it took eyman's prop 90 to get brian sontag to take a look... ah and what did we find, about a 100 million dollars worth of nepotism, lots of other places you could find that too. lots of other big stories underground that only occasionally give off a little smoke just the way volcanoes do, always near ready to erupt. thus eyman is a kind of diversion really and fun to beat up on especially when he overdoes his stuff. lieberman is the essence of the corruption of the u.s.
    political arrangements.


    Posted Fri, Jan 8, 10:57 a.m. Inappropriate

    I’ll leave Lieberman to the national political folks, but this is a shockingly weak defense of Tim Eyman. Ted takes issue with government policy in three specific areas: tax breaks, the tax system, and union contracts. But, he doesn’t mention that none of Eyman’s initiatives have addressed any of these issues. Eyman’s initiatives have simply slashed revenues available for basic services, so Tim is as much to blame for government’s current financial woes as any officeholder. He’s demonstrated racist (I-200) and anti-gay (R-65) beliefs and his initiative business has long since morphed into a fully-funded shill operation for an angry (rich) white man. And, hey, sorry to bring political reality into this discussion, but the public and press now see Eyman as an insufferable, arrogant frat boy jerk and that has helped drag down the numbers of his last couple initiatives. Why shouldn’t Eyman’s opponents vilify him? He truly deserves it and the tactic seems to be working at the ballot box.


    Posted Fri, Jan 8, 12:30 p.m. Inappropriate

    As NickBob says above, Lieberman IS politcally dishonest, although it's good to know that he is a family man and is probably respectful of small animals.

    "I disagree with Lieberman on many issues. But I have no reason to believe that his views on any policy, including health policy, do not have a thought-through intellectual basis. I know him to be an honest man."

    There's video footage of Lieberman, in past personas, publicly backing different public-option health programs. We can speculate as to why that changed this year, but I can never respect him. It's not clear he re-thunk anything on that one, and it's too important an issue to fib about.

    I agree that there's no need to call Joe silly names ----- But when Tim Eyeman dresses up in a gorilla suit (like he did a couple of years ago) that's just begging for ridicule. Makes a great photo-op though!

    Joe Sperry


    Posted Fri, Jan 8, 1:37 p.m. Inappropriate

    It appears that your hook was in error.

    I will concede that Lieberman and Eyman are intellectually dishonest in similar ways.


    Posted Fri, Jan 8, 5:22 p.m. Inappropriate

    NickBob beat me to it. Mr. Eyman won't just go away because this is his JOB. He is an "initiative entrepreneur" who makes a decent living launching initiatives. You also forget his failed attempts to make discrimination against gays legal again and to deregulate slot machines. What do these causes have in common with shrinking the state? Nothing but the existence of deep-pocketed supporters, I'm afraid.

    I think you're also being sloppy about Joe Lieberman -- he's widely disliked on the Left, but he's also a Senator and committe chairman. If this is being a pariah, sign me up!


    Posted Fri, Jan 8, 9:05 p.m. Inappropriate

    Mr. Van Dyk,
    I'm just kind of baffled why you think Lieberman is smart. I've listened to him but I just don't hear it or find it in his changing positions. He doesn't seem to be driven by any consistent set of values or policy positions (except pro-Israel) or have any particularly compelling analysis. Just not sure what you're referring to.

    Just looking for evidence,


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