On the ballot in Washington state

November 5, 2012

Steve Leigh looks at some real choices that Washington state voters will make.

ON NOVEMBER 6, Washington state voters will determine the fate of several important ballot measures. Two would move the state forward if they passed, and two would be setbacks.

The importance of these issues are a contrast to the tiny differences between the candidates of the 1 percent that dominate the elections for state offices. Just as at the national level, the debate is over how to continue to drive down the wages and conditions of the 99 percent.

Jay Inslee, the labor-backed Democrat running for governor, is trying to ignore and avoid the disastrous legacy of the current governor, Democrat Christine Gregoire. Under her watch, the Democratic legislature slashed over $10 billion from education and social spending in the last three years. Gregoire told state unions this year not to even try to request any wage increases in spite of years of wage freezes, furloughs and layoffs for state employees.

Inslee has nothing to say about this record. Instead, he makes promises about creating a "working Washington" with new jobs in high tech, aerospace and green energy--but of course, with no specifics or funding proposals. His slogan is a rip-off of the community-labor alliance called "Working Washington" that tries to defend the interests of the 99 percent , but also backs candidates like Inslee.

Right-winger Tim Eyman rallies support for his anti-tax Initiative 1185
Right-winger Tim Eyman rallies support for his anti-tax Initiative 1185

On the Republican side, Rob McKenna, the current attorney general, says he has a "plan" to create thousands of private-sector jobs--much like Romney's mythical 12 million jobs in his first term. In both cases, the Republicans propose the pro-business magic of trickle-down economics.

McKenna is avoiding talk about his long record of appealing to the Tea Party; of joining a suit by right-wing state officials against Barack Obama's health care law without any proposed alternative to provide health care; and of suing to oppose a 12 cent increase in the minimum wage a couple years ago. He is, of course, viciously anti-union and would like to emulate Scott Walker in Wisconsin

THE BALLOT propositions, on the other hand, pose important political questions in stark terms.

Initiative 1185, proposed by reactionary Tim Eyman, would reinstate the requirement that the legislature needs a two-thirds vote for an legislation that includes a tax increase. The only alternative would be to refer each tax measure to a popular referendum.

Eyman's proposal is an attempt to starve state government by refusing to allow it to keep up with increasing demands for social services due to the economic crisis. It would also prevent the legislature from moving toward adequate funding of K-12 education or higher education--even though the courts have said that the state is not meeting its obligation to fulfill its "paramount duty" of providing education. Washington is already among the states with the highest class sizes.

I-1185 would virtually cement in place the $10 billion worth of cuts in state programs over the last three years.

Unions, of course, oppose this initiative. The Democratic Party formally opposes it as well. However, the two-thirds restriction has continued to give the Democrats an excuse for not overhauling the state's tax structure. Even when the restriction was not in place, they used fear of it coming back as a reason for not raising taxes on the rich.

Washington already has the most regressive tax structure of any state---even after years of Democratic domination. No 1185!

Referendum 74 is a ballot measure that would approve a law adopted by the legislature earlier this year that legalizes same-sex couples. The result of years of lobbying and campaigning by the LGBT movement in Washington state, the referendum would supersede an earlier " everything but marriage" law.

This new law would solidify the position of same-sex couples. And it is one of three measures on different state ballots this year whose passage would be the first time marriage equality was won by a statewide popular ballot measure. This would therefore give a major push to marriage equality around the U.S.

Support for gay rights generally is strong in Washington state, with R-74 consistently ahead in the polls. Recently, however, opponents have dumped thousands into TV ads into the state, which claim, "You don't have to be anti-gay to oppose R-74."

Yet the anti-LGBT bias of this campaign is only barely below the surface. Opponents claim that "marriage is about raising children," implying that gay couples can't or shouldn't be parents. Another ridiculous claim is that if the measure passes, opponents would somehow be sued and otherwise victimized. In fact, R-74 explicitly affirms the right of churches not to perform same-sex marriages. The claims about increased lawsuits have debunked in study after study. But facts never bothered the bigots before---and they certainly don't in this case. Yes on R-74!

Initiative 502 would legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for adults. It would also regulate it and tax distribution. Only marijuana grown in Washington state would be legal.

Besides reducing resources spent on policing people's private lives, passage of this measure would put a crimp in the "war on drugs." As in other states, people of color, especially Black men, are disproportionately likely to be swept up in the drug war. In Washington state, people of color are 12 percent of the population, but 36 percent of prisoners. In King County, where Seattle is located, the imprisonment rate for Black men is eight times that of white men.

Supporters of marijuana legalization have criticisms of this measure--it would establish a driving while under the influence standard that is too low. Users of medical marijuana, which is already legal in Washington state, fear that they would be arrested under this standard. The ballot measure also excludes people under 21.

Of course, the other issue is how the federal government would handle state legalization while cannabis is still illegal under federal law. If this passes, Washington state would be the first to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Colorado has a similar initiative on the ballot as well. Yes on I-502!

Initiative 1240 would allow Washington state to create up to 40 charter schools in five years. This initiative is opposed by teachers and everyone who stands against corporate education deform. No on I-1240!

No matter how the election turns out, working class and poor people will have to continue to fight against austerity imposed by the Republicans and Democrats and the divisive tactics both parties are using to inhibit our fightback. The success or failure of these ballot measures will have a real impact on those fights.

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