Death by 1033 cuts

The author, a staunch opponent of Tim Eyman's tax-limiting ballot measure, worries that the "No" campaign is off to a sluggish, wonky start.
The author, a staunch opponent of Tim Eyman's tax-limiting ballot measure, worries that the "No" campaign is off to a sluggish, wonky start.

If it passes this fall, Initiative 1033 will inflict cuts inducing massive bleeding in Washington State’s schools, hospitals, health services, conservation efforts, firefighting capabilities, law enforcement resources, job recovery … the gory you-name-its would delight a bloodthirsty imagination.

And right now the “No on I-1033” campaign seems the unkindest cut of all.

I’ve been phone-banking and doorbelling on behalf of other fall campaigns for three weeks now. Nothing’s on the calendar yet for No on 1033 partisans. Other fall campaigns have cooked up edible sound bites to help frazzled voters digest their main points, but the No on 1033 website, like a tired academic, admonishes us to “Learn the Basic Facts” and “Learn More” from files of hypertext. Some voters will never even peek into the thick forest of facts. Many who venture in won't be able to see the trees.

“No on I-1033” is wise to avoid direct references to initiative sponsor Tim Eyman and his seductive pitch for putting quick dollars in property owners’ pockets. And the four “No” fact sheets I’ve seen sharply counterpunch the measure by enumerating the long-term costs that the initiative, if passed, would impose on the state.

But with no crisply worded flyers or handouts yet available, coalition partners have to scramble to create simple materials they can use when presenting to groups that might be galvanized into action on the issue. At a monthly U District Conversation on Homelessness meeting last week a speaker invited from the Poverty Action Network to talk about the anti-1033 effort distributed a handout detailing opposition arguments. “Detailing” is the word. In margin-to-margin 9-point type, unbroken by images to catch the eye or mind, the page was a block of thick paragraphs and bullet points that could have counted as essay answers on some of today’s high school tests.

Yes, I-1033 is complex. It’s Byzantine in its provisions and obfuscatory in its language — an avatar of the chaos it would cause. The opposition is trying to be clear and rational by contrast, but opposition materials that include fact sheets, a bibliography of linked articles, and a nearly 10-minute video about Colorado (where a similar initiative ruined the state) need to be boiled down to a message that voters can hold onto.

A slogan the campaign recently decided on is, “Times are tough enough. Let’s not make them worse.” It sounds exhausted, overwhelmed, and pleading, the way a voter feels when trying to bushwhack through Eyman’s prose, but it’s something. Still, where are the pithy talking points that should follow the slogan and charge up the troops?

And where’s the memorable, arresting logo? How about I-1033’s revenue cap as a “wrecking cap” — enormous iron headgear crashed into a crumbling outline of Washington State? Or a monstrous I-1033 weight sinking a Washington State ferry or collapsing a bridge? Or a concrete I-1033 lid, the kind they put on top of coffins?

No on I-1033 Campaign Manager Aisling Kerins reminded me over the phone last week, “We do have fact sheets.” I reminded her back that the fact sheets are pretty dense discourses. Kerins assured me, “We’re redoing all our materials. ... We’re gearing up our field program next week to start volunteer phone banks. We’re building coalitions and lining up commitments from those folks.”

Why don’t I feel reassured?

Because “next week,” now this week, is the fourth week in September. Because mail-in ballots get distributed in just three more weeks. Because the issue does indeed possess a certain intricacy, and voters need a brief litany of simple talking points, repeated over a goodly period of time, in order to hold some of the convolutions in mind.

Because it seems awfully late in the day for a fall campaign, especially one so crucial to making sure our state doesn’t bleed to death, to be just now getting up to speed.


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