"They thought I was some kind of Greek god."
February 5, 2002 12:18 PM   Subscribe

"They thought I was some kind of Greek god." Tim Eyman, the self-styled "maverick" author of several tax-slash initiatives in Washington state, has admitted to not only taking $210,000 from his "grass-roots" campaigns for personal use but consistently lying about it. Now, he says, he wants "his peasants" to decide whether he should give it back. When will people learn what populists usually amount to?
posted by argybarg (22 comments total)
Is this schaedenfreude I'm feeling?...aaahhhhhhhh, that's good stuff.

Tim Eyman is a walking argument against direct democracy.
posted by Ty Webb at 12:38 PM on February 5, 2002

they should at least make him pay extra taxes on it.
posted by th3ph17 at 12:39 PM on February 5, 2002

Tim Eyman is a walking argument against direct democracy.

Why? Because he's a thief? Why should my franchise be proxied because he can't keep his hands off the cash?
posted by UncleFes at 1:16 PM on February 5, 2002

I'm just glad this smarmy egomaniac has to writhe in public shame. That's all.

I hope it's enough to stop him, though. I'm pretty sick of hearing about government-funded programs being slashed because of massive tax reductions. I know it's not all Eyman's fault, but he enjoyed standing up to take the blame/adulation (and apparently cash).
posted by kokogiak at 1:18 PM on February 5, 2002

Why should my franchise be proxied because he can't keep his hands off the cash?

Your franchise should be proxied not because Tim Eyman can't keep his hands of the cash, but because his anti-tax inititatives represent the primacy of ill-informed self interest that direct democracy would realize.
posted by Ty Webb at 1:29 PM on February 5, 2002

I've recorded my loathing for Eyman here in the past, and won't belabor it.

Well, okay, yes I will, because all of my early invective portraying him as a cynical, self-inflating douchebag have been vindicated.

From the article:

Petitions for Eyman's latest measure, Initiative 776, go into the mail to supporters next week. "The question," Eyman observed, "is whether our supporters will just throw them into the garbage."

The state courts haven't had any problem doing this in the past to his low-watt-bulb initiatives.
posted by Skot at 1:36 PM on February 5, 2002

Guilt by Association is a logical fallacy. The fact that Tim Eyman is a crook does not mean that tax cuts, direct democracy or populism are somehow bad ideas.

It so happens that direct democracy and populism generally are bad ideas, but this isn't at all proof of it.

posted by aaron at 1:44 PM on February 5, 2002

primacy of ill-informed self interest that direct democracy would realize.

Why does everyone assume self-interest must necessarily be ill-informed? Or that self-interest must necessarily be opposite to the interests of the larger group? I disagree with the idea that my representative are automatically assumed to know better than I what is in my and my fellow citizens' best interest. They have certainly proven willing to co-opt that assumption at almost any opportunity their own best interest digresses from that of their constituency. Ty and Aaron, I believe we are badly served by our representatives and, if we are, are not all our fellow citizens?

Is there a historical precendent somewhere for direct democracy? I can't think of one off the top of my head other than early Greece.
posted by UncleFes at 1:55 PM on February 5, 2002

The fact that Tim Eyman is a crook does not mean that tax cuts, direct democracy or populism are somehow bad ideas.

Yes, my statement about direct democracy was a non-sequitur. Regardless, Eyman's success demonstrates many of the weaknesses of the idea. That he happens to be a schmuck is unrelated (or is it?)

I disagree with the idea that my representative are automatically assumed to know better than I what is in my and my fellow citizens' best interest.

Who's trying to make that case? Representatives are charged with taking in-depth looks at complicated issues, such as tax structure. Sure they make decisions I disagree with, but I respect the fact that they've at least studiously examined the issues, as opposed to a punk like Eyman, who just doesn't want to pay his taxes. He rails on and on about gov't waste, but neither he or his people could come up with any specific programs to cut, only taxes to eliminate. SURPRISE! Government is complicated!

If half the electorate can't be troubled to vote in the first place, what makes you think they're going to take the time to study issues to cast an informed vote on every aspect of their lives?
posted by Ty Webb at 2:09 PM on February 5, 2002

The classic argument against direct democracy is not an indictment of self-interest; rather, it is a criticism based on the danger of "mob rule". In short, the formation of a majority leads to the sacrifice of the minority. In the words of Madison (The Federalist #10):

From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.

I love that quote. Anyway, representative government works to check this effect by establishing a means for political negotiation. Where "the people" would vote to eliminate their enemies, representatives work to reach a compromise with theirs, since they have their jobs to hold onto and they know that there's always going to be another vote.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:25 PM on February 5, 2002

Why does everyone assume self-interest must necessarily be ill-informed?

I don't assume it necessarily is ill-informed, but I sure do believe that it is often, and that's dangerous enough. We have to face the reality that there are millions of people in this country who are, shall we say, "unenlightened" enough to unquestionably accept as truth a TV ad that claims George W. Bush is practically to blame for the murder of a black man who was killed by being tied up behind a truck and dragged for three miles, because Bush didn't sign a controversial hate crimes bill AFTER THE FACT. Who totally buy into an ad that says "Senator X voted against the Child Welfare Act. Do we really want to reelect a heartless bastard like that?" even though the reason Senator X - and dozens of other Senators - voted against it because it was actually a pork bill that had almost nothing to do with child welfare whatsoever, and that had the label "Child Welfare Act" slapped onto it with the specific intent that one of the political parties intended to use the false name as ammo in TV ads against their opponents two years down the line.

Yes, I'm totally an elitist on this point, and fully admit it. There simply are far too many stupid people in this country (and this world) to make direct democracy a workable concept. (In fact, the Federalist Papers are largely devoted to explaining the reasons why the Founders agree with me on this; it's the reason we ended up with a representative republic in the first place.) Are we badly served by our representatives? No, I don't think so, at least not compared to the alternative. At the very least, the fact that our representatives have to work their way up the political ladder over a period of years, learning to campaign, to listen to constituents, to negotiate with the other side (well, usually anyway), ensures that we end up with elected representatives of a baseline amount of brains and ability. (Again, with the occasional exception.)

With direct democracy, we are all at the mercy of the loudest and/or most persuasive person that happens to show up. Mr. Roboto's Madison quote puts that far better than I can, of course. But I think Madison leaves out an even more important point, one he couldn't really conceive of at the time, is the overwhelming power of the special-interest group. If we were ever governed by direct democracy, we would essentially be living under the tyranny of whatever group was best at the "knock-and-drag" game. Whoever could entice, cajole, coax and/or threaten enough people to show up to every town council meeting and vote the way the special-interest group wanted, would have 100% control of that government. That sort of political system doesn't really appeal to me much.

Of course, the whole argument over direct democracy is moot anyway, simply because it cannot be implemented on any scale beyond that of a very small city. When every single matter must be put to a vote of the people, it becomes impossible when there are too many matters to vote upon.

posted by aaron at 3:57 PM on February 5, 2002

Mr. Eyman would not have been nearly so effective if Washington's govenor had some balls.
Olympia's responses to Eyman's initiatives have been weak at best and could be considered arrogant at worst.
This state has the second highest unemployment rate in the nation and has suffered several economic setbacks. The immediate future is looking quite cloudy as well. Yet, the legislature seems to be more concerned with removing the teaching of evolution from our classrooms and building stadiums for billionaires than doing something about the economy.
Mr. Eyman was just skilled at tapping into the anger already there. Weathering this current dust-up should be an indicator of how deep that anger runs. Government need to be responsive to needs and will of the people otherwise, people will continure to work the system to their own ends...
posted by black8 at 4:10 PM on February 5, 2002


Gutting the state's ability to maintain the infrastructure isn't about to reverse any economic setbacks. People around here are so smug, with big fat Microsoft and Boeing, that they don't realize we could, economically, turn into Idaho or Arkansas if we aren't careful.
posted by argybarg at 4:39 PM on February 5, 2002

aaron: nice post, and welcome back.
posted by lescour at 5:06 PM on February 5, 2002

From what I heard on the radio this morning, some people are actually sending Eyman cash now for living expenses. Apparently their thinking is, "Well, if you needed money to live on while you try to get your initiatives on the ballot, why didn't you just say so? Here you go." The obvious thought that a man who has demonstrated fiscal irresponsibility should never ever be trusted with other people's money again never seems to have crossed the mind of these Eyman supporters...

This state's government is just plain goofy, though. I've thought that since shortly after I moved here.
posted by kindall at 5:07 PM on February 5, 2002

aaron: it's great to have you and your arguments back! Best thing to happen on MetaFilter for a long time. Thanks.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:40 PM on February 5, 2002

The working assumption is that most people aren't able or bright enough to make serious decisions for their own community.

Actually, my belief is not that most people are so innately stupid as to be physically incapable of dealing with the important issues of the day in their minds. I think they intentionally keep themselves stupid on matters of politics, because it bores them, or because they just don't care. (We all know at least several people who not only never read a newspaper or watch the news on TV, but are actually proud enough of their ignorance to announce this fact to others as if it were a badge of honor!) And no amount of mandatory education on civics and politics will ever change this, at least not as long as we remain a country where we have free will. (The last thing we need is forced political participation in this country when so many are willfully ignorant on almost every single issue, and wish to remain so.)

posted by aaron at 6:25 PM on February 5, 2002

It's not a matter of the stupidity of voters so much as a question of how much concentration on complex issues the general public can afford. One-phrase questions ("Should doctor-assisted suicide be made legal?") can be answered, but how exactly would, say, tax reform be enacted? How would a complete budget, with all the different areas of spending portioned down to the last dollar, be assembled? The laws that run any state are remarkably complex, because the world is complex. The functions of government can not be governed by people sitting for five minutes over a voters' pamphlet with a cup of coffee.

That's the problem with Tim Eyman's initiatives: They give the voters a nice reward without demanding of voters that they consider any consequences. Most anti-tax voters refer to some magical stockpile of waste that we can eliminate to plug any size of deficit -- but talk to anyone who drafts policy and they'll tell you that waste doesn't amount to anything like what people think it does. Really, the voters just wanted lower taxes and not only left the legistature to clean up the mess but also showered them with derision and blame when -- surprise! -- they couldn't pay for everything the people wanted.
posted by argybarg at 11:04 PM on February 5, 2002

argybarg, I totally agree with you. But you know as well as I do that Metro Seattle is pretty much an island of libralism in an otherwise very conservative state (WA carried Pat Robertson in the primary a few years back).
Just a couple of years ago, when things were good and we had a fat surplus, Mr. Eyman a Mukilteo conservative, saw his chance to cut a little "fat." He was smart in picking a tax/fee nobody really liked.
There was a very weak (IMO) response from the Govenor and since the Legislature bent over backwards to get public money for a ballpark even though voters were against it and kept Sound Transit rolling even though it's rapidly becoming too expensive. Eyman just tapped into voter frustration with the state government and cast himself as David fighting the good fight against the Goliath.
We know that Hell would have to freeze over before the voters would pass a State Income Tax. At best, this scandal will keep Eyman from running for Govenor anytime soon.
But I'm afraid we be cutting our noses to spite our faces for the foreseeable future here.
posted by black8 at 1:57 AM on February 6, 2002

"Monte Benham, who co-sponsored Eyman's three tax-cutting initiatives approved by Washington voters...said Eyman didn't consult him about most financial matters because 'I lived on one side of the mountains and he lived on the other.'" I've lived in Seattle since 1983, but never before knew that the Cascades cut off communication between Washingtonians!
posted by Carol Anne at 6:22 AM on February 6, 2002

Believe it, Carol Anne. There was talk (although somewhat tongue-in-cheek) a few years ago about Eastern Washington splitting off and becoming the State of "Lincoln."
posted by black8 at 12:37 PM on February 6, 2002

I'd like to live in the State of Polk.
posted by Ty Webb at 1:15 PM on February 6, 2002

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