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LIQUOR: Confusion all too understandable

Letter by Lucy A. Salazar, Tacoma on June 4, 2012 at 1:12 pm with 35 Comments »
June 4, 2012 1:17 pm

I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the consequences of Initiative 1183 thus far – a high price on liquor at chain stores, especially.

Many ask: Well, what did you expect? Reflecting on this point, though, how could people know? I’m 19, a very recent voter, and I spend hours pouring over arguments from both sides on almost every proposal and trying to decipher the grossly complicated language. It’s like studying for finals.

Seriously, who has the time to do this? Who has the resources?

I do believe this was a major failing on the voters’ part, but it’s indicative of a much larger problem in the way we pass laws. By packing proposals in what is practically (sometimes literally) a foreign language, those who write initiatives are taking away the ability of a majority of the population to make a truly informed decision.

Politics and democracy has turned into an ivory tower, and so many people are shut out – either refusing to vote because they don’t understand or, perhaps, voting in ways they will regret once the consequences come around.

The cry seems to be, “If only we had known!” When the constituency can’t understand what they’re voting for, is democracy even alive at all?

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Leave a comment Comments → 35
  1. CrazyJim says:

    You been punked by Costco!

  2. APimpNamedSlickback says:

    “Seriously, who has the time to do this? Who has the resources?”

    Responsible citizens do. If you don’t have the time to commit to the most basic duty of a citizen, then it’s better that you don’t vote.

  3. menopaws says:

    Dear Lucy……this ignorance is what got Pierce County the gift that keeps on giving:Dale Washam!!!! I truly understand what you are saying and I do believe that clearer, more concise language would be a help. But, honestly, I still believe it is OUR responsibility as voters to learn and ask questions…….Government for and by the stupid is NEVER productive or good. But, we voters often get exactly what we deserve. I have listened to a lot of people blame government for everything that is wrong in our society. Very few admit to taking any responsibility for those problems. Being an adult requires doing that and how you vote requires knowledge. So, those voters who are furious about this liquor situation didn’t pay much attention or read the material in the voters guide. It may be difficult to understand, but people should still try. Of course–it’s another reason to NOT take responsibility and blame your vote on ignorance…….And, to me–that is another cop-out on doing your duty as a citizen. You sound like you care and I applaud you for that. Just remember that government is only as good as the people they serve………

  4. Lucy – welcome to adulthood.

    The decisions just get bigger and more complex as you get older.

    Don’t give up.

  5. took14theteam says:

    For the love of gawd menopaws. Please send me your address so that I may send you a keyboard with a working Return key.

    If you really want people to read what you have to say, you might try a paragraph or two. That is why they were invented.

    From the letter.

    “When the constituency can’t understand what they’re voting for, is democracy even alive at all?”

    Very good observation.

    But in this state, if they just put a D by the name, no one has to understand it, they will just pull the lever knowing it is good….

    ;-)

  6. alindasue says:

    “Seriously, who has the time to do this? Who has the resources?”

    Google is your friend. All it takes is a quick search for an initiative name (in this case, it was I-1183) to find the text of an initiative. Read it. Be an informed voter. It’s part of being a responsible citizen.

    “By packing proposals in what is practically (sometimes literally) a foreign language…”

    While some referendums (written by legislators, who are often lawyers) can be written in a “foreign” language, I-1183, like many initiatives, was written in pretty straight forward English. You just need to find the time to read it.

    took14theteam said, “But in this state, if they just put a D by the name, no one has to understand it, they will just pull the lever knowing it is good….”

    As I recall, there was no “D” or “R” on this initiative. Even if there were a party affiliation attached to an issue, that is no excuse for voting for anything without going beyond the campaign ads and learning about what you are voting for.

  7. SwordofPerseus says:

    The mind is a terrible thing to waste…

    I understand that it is time consuming to be informed, however it is the cornerstone of a free Republic and it is incumbent upon the voter to be informed. That being said it is becoming increasingly difficult if not impossible to find unbiased assessments and reporting on the TV news on any channel. As alindasue says Google is your friend, but you have to be wary and not just look at the same source as the TV news or even the first sites you find, you may need to look deeper.

    It is a safe bet, as history has taught us; if a big retail, entertainment, energy, manufacturing, or pharmaceutical company is promoting one piece of legislation or another it will be bad for the general public.

  8. Zeblistic says:

    The problem isn’t the language. It’s that people put their trust in corporations. NEVER trust something thats only goal is to make money.

  9. Funny how the CONS are trying to make this a partisan politics issue. The only thing partisan is that conservatives thought they were cool bullying a bunch of state employees into unemployment. The joke’s on them. They get to pay more for their booze.

  10. lucy — first off, we dont have many initiatives to research, its not really burdensome at all, it just being an informed and involved member of society. even then though, the legislators and then the governor can overturn whatever we DO pass.

    more importantly, dont do your research by listening to political ad campaigns commentators. they invest big money to push their agenda, and its generally not borne of civic duty. the correct information is out there, consider your sources well. find actual numbers and not just talking points.

  11. alindasue says:

    SwordofPerseus said, “As alindasue says Google is your friend, but you have to be wary and not just look at the same source as the TV news or even the first sites you find, you may need to look deeper.”

    In the case of an initiative or referendum, use Google to find the actual text of the document and read it. Seeing the words right there in black and white will teach you more about an issue than any news story or commercial ever could.

  12. concernedtacoma7 says:

    The left is whining because the people voted for private enterprise over big govt junk. The price they paid was an insane, unreasonable tax.

    I look forward to the next vote, lower taxes. Feel free to cut services that only benefit selective groups.

  13. commoncents says:

    Folks…read the letter. She said she spent hours pouring over the arguments. My guess is that she read the voter’s pamphlet. What she failed to understand is that the wording on the initiative is written by the sponsors who deliberatly try to obfuscate the issue so that people end up resorting to listening to those ads.

    Lucy, while it may seem taxing (pun intended) to read, the voters guide does have all the details on initiatives. However, you can’t limit yourself to just the guides. That’s why we have Washam…

    As others have said, google….Read as much as you can. There is plenty of time to do it. In the case of the intiatives you generally have 5 months or so to do the research. Case in point, Referendum 74 has enough signatures to get on the November ballot. Wait until November to do the research and you will make a choice based upon emotion rather than facts and reasoned response. Emotional votes often times to end up with regret

  14. menopaws says:

    Ct7—I am on the left and I am NOT whining……..I think it’s funny that all those on the RIGHT are now whining about getting rid of socialism (state run stores) and having to pay lots more in the free market…….Just cracks me up that now they want their “socialism” back because it’s cheaper!!!!! My laughter just continues………….

  15. menopaws – and what is sad is that people like Frank Burns don’t understand that the government will ALWAYS run business on a lower cost of doing business, because there are not Romney types waiting in the wings for their profits, for not doing a day’s work.

  16. “Seriously, who has the time to do this? Who has the resources?”

    Every adult has the time and the resources Lucy, welcome to the club.
    Problem is, most voters are simply lazy, they tune into fox and let others tell them how to vote and they do it without question, time after time.
    They never seem to learn.

  17. “The left is whining”

    Funny but if you read the ‘whining’ complaints, they are ALL from rightists.

  18. alindasue says:

    commoncents said, “What she failed to understand is that the wording on the initiative is written by the sponsors who deliberatly try to obfuscate the issue so that people end up resorting to listening to those ads.”

    Did you read the initiative? I-1183 was one of the most plain English and straight forward initiatives I have ever read. There was no obfuscating, deliberate or otherwise, in it. The only people who wouldn’t know what taxes, fees, and specifications would be in the law are those who didn’t read all the way through it.

    Tim Eyman could take a lesson or two from Costco’s initiative writers.

  19. lucysalazar says:

    Responsible adults have the time to do this? Responsible adults who work 60 hours a week, have families to feed, maybe don’t even have the educational background to realize tricks like Eyman’s or unconsciously alienating language? Almost all of these comments are speaking from a place of remarkable privilege, assuming that every single voter in the state has the background you do, the time and resources that you do, when that couldn’t be further from the truth.

    I suggest that many of these commenters stop acting so remarkably pedantic to their fellow voters and understand that the majority of the population simply CANNOT UNDERSTAND THE LANGUAGE and the full implications of the things on which their voting. That doesn’t mean they’re stupid, or lazy, or ignorant, or, most importantly, that their voices don’t matter. So thank you for the comments, and for validating my attacks on privilege and elitism inherent in political discourse.

  20. lucysalazar says:

    *They’re, apologies!

  21. alindasue says:

    lucysalazar said, “Responsible adults have the time to do this? Responsible adults who work 60 hours a week, have families to feed, maybe don’t even have the educational background…”

    Responsible adults who vote need to find the time to do it or accept being subjected to the political whims of whoever has the highest advertising dollars.

    I-1183 (unlike most of Tim Eyman’s missives) was written in plain English. All you really needed to do this time was find a half hour or so to sit down and read it before voting.

  22. lucysalazar says:

    While the language in 1183 may have been accessible to you or me, there are many people to whom it was not. Likewise, many people are not aware of the nuances and consequences of privatization because of their educational backgrounds and degree of access to political discourse.

    Many people don’t have time time to sit down and dissect the voter’s pamphlet as it deserves doing, many people read the measure and saw greater convenience in buying liquor – again, this doesn’t make them stupid, ignorant, or lazy. It means that political education is a privilege denied to many of the voters in this state – those who can’t afford the newspaper, much less TV or the internet, those who had to drop out of high school to get jobs, and thus don’t know what ‘privatization’ means those who are alienated by “plain English” because it is their second language.

    It seems that many of these commenters are suggesting that these people abstain from voting in which case, is the vote reserved for the select few (because we are a select few) who have the resources and time to fully research every measure and its implications? 1183 is only a recent example of this much larger issue, and by far the most talked-about as of late. Perhaps instead of demanding these ‘responsibilities’ from remarkably underprivileged voters completely unequipped to provide them, efforts could be made to eliminate political alienation and increase the availability of education on issues put to the vote – namely, by crafting a more accessible voter’s pamphlet.

  23. RobinBarson says:

    alindasue:
    “Responsible adults who vote need to find the time to do it or accept being subjected to the political whims of whoever has the highest advertising dollars.

    I-1183 (unlike most of Tim Eyman’s missives) was written in plain English. All you really needed to do this time was find a half hour or so to sit down and read it before voting.”

    The point that Lucy is making is that not all responsible adults have the time or the resources to devote half an hour or more to every issue on every ballot. Many responsible adults aren’t even aware that they should spend that much time researching issues because they haven’t had the privilege of a strong political education. But in order for this to be a healthy, functioning democracy, their voices must be heard. They have just as much right to the ability to make an informed decision as you or I.

    There is a reason why measures such as poll taxes and required IQ tests are unconstitutional. The voices of the underprivileged are crucial to this democratic system.

    Frankly I don’t see why so many commenters seem morally opposed to simplifying and clarifying the language on ballot initiatives. Surely this can only be a good thing. In an ideal world, everyone would have ample time to research every initiative and candidate and make a thoroughly informed decision. But that is not the world we live in. Simplified ballot language would make it easier for a larger segment of the population to participate in the electoral process, which all Americans should fully support.

  24. alindasue: Can you really read 60 pages of dense legal writing in half an hour? I know I can’t, and I consider myself an educated person.

    Even if you do read the bill in its entirety, that often tells you nothing of the real-world consequences it will have. Remember that the bill only specifies the taxes to be paid by the retail chains, which tells you very little about how the stores themselves will end up pricing their products compared to state liquor stores.

    It’s very easy to sit there and say that everyone else should work harder, but the fact is, when we have a system that requires hours and hours of research and effort plus a relatively high amount of education to thoroughly understand any bill, something is wrong.

  25. roussir says:

    Lucy, while being in the position of privilege that you refer to, I understand your point, and sympathize. However, you seem to be expecting that the fox (pun unintended) explains the details of the deal to the chickens. If they cannot defend their interests themselves, democracy still lives; it’s just the chickens that don’t.

    The clear explanations are out there. It is our duty for our own good to find them and recognize them. Excuses with “ivory towers” only bring the flavor of anti-intellectualism, which is a big part of the problem.

  26. alindasue says:

    zosnap said, “Remember that the bill only specifies the taxes to be paid by the retail chains, which tells you very little about how the stores themselves will end up pricing their products compared to state liquor stores.”

    How the retail stores price the products is up to the stores, it was not specified in the initiative. It only states how much the taxes would be. Did you really want the initiative to set the price that stores must charge?

    Regardless, even people with busy schedules should take the time to read initiatives prior to voting on them. I-1183 was written in plain English. It may have taken a couple hours to read, but it is not beyond possible for busy people. As for other initiatives (like Tim Eyman’s), if you are going to vote on them, it wouldn’t hurt to learn a little legalese.

    As roussir said, “Excuses with “ivory towers” only bring the flavor of anti-intellectualism, which is a big part of the problem.”

    What’s the point in voting if you are not going to learn about what you are voting on before submitting the ballot or don’t complain about being surprised after the results come in.

  27. alindasue says:

    Need edit function.

    What’s the point in voting if you are not going to learn about what you are voting on before submitting the ballot? If you can’t make time to study before the election, then don’t complain about being surprised after the results come in.

  28. RobinBarson says:

    alindasue, you’re just completely missing the point of what we’re writing. Not everyone has a couple of hours to devote to this. And I would argue that a majority of people are really not in a position to just “learn a little legalese”. Not everyone has the privileges that you enjoy. Should they really be denied a voice on account of a problem that could be fixed so easily?

  29. lucysalazar says:

    And a quick aside to Roussir, I would argue that anti-intellectualism is really not the issue here – perhaps in certain parties and political movements, but not in this particular discussion. What are the insults bandied about in these comments? “Lazy,” “ignorant,” “stupid,” referring to people who maybe don’t have too much leisure time or intellectual energy to devote to political endeavors. If the fox, as you put it, doesn’t explain to the chickens, and the chickens don’t live, then it’s an oligarchy, not a democracy. An oligarchy of the intelligent, of those who can afford to devote time and energy to political research, but an oligarchy all the same. As Robin says, there’s a reason why IQ tests and poll taxes are unconstitutional, and it’s because the silencing, alienation, and invalidation of a part of the population through voting is, in essence, fascism.

    Again, anti-intellectualism is not the issue here. It isn’t the ‘intellectuals’ that are alienated by political language (although many might be, especially when it comes to purposefully confusing measures). It is those without access to ‘higher’ education, those who speak English as a second language, those who cannot, for whatever reason, fully grasp the language, nuances, and consequences of each and every measure on each and every ballot. These people are continuously devalued, not only through the modern equivalent of a poll tax or IQ test, but systemically.

  30. lucysalazar says:

    *Not to say that those listed above cannot be intellectuals, I just find political language especially problematic to those without such privileges as university, speaking English natively, etc.

  31. roussir says:

    “It is those without access to ‘higher’ education, those who speak English as a second language, those who cannot, for whatever reason, fully grasp the language, nuances, and consequences of each and every measure on each and every ballot. These people are continuously devalued, not only through the modern equivalent of a poll tax or IQ test, but systemically.”

    I hear the complaint; I am curious about the suggestion how to address the problem (besides improving education, which would be my approach) – how do you envision the mechanism of improving the political language and clarifying the messages, so they can be accessible to anyone?
    (Btw, English as a forth language here; ADA-regulations enforcer, besides other things.)

  32. lucysalazar says:

    To be honest, I have no idea where to start! Of course, education would be my main front, but even then there are people who can’t be reached. I think, in regards to this problem especially, simplifying the language in voter’s pamphlets and including clearer argument descriptions. I think it’s possible to explain things clearly without being overly complicated, and that’s what educators, journalists, and politicians alike should aim for.

    I also think everyone has their part to play with outreach though – explaining and clarifying so that instead of having the Knows and the Know-Nots we can reach a middle ground of a more simplified language as well as more opportunities (with journalism and education especially) to distribute and dissect political discourse, even on just a person-to-person basis.

  33. roussir says:

    An idealist, I see. Not bad.
    Well, you do your part to the best of your abitities and convictions, and I wish you all the luck. There is a role for all good-faith, well-intentioned, compassionate players – tower or no tower.

  34. alindasue: I was just pointing out that even those who did read the bill in its entirety could still have been surprised by its consequences (ie the high prices at chain stores). “Just read the whole bill and then you will know everything about the issue” is not really a valid argument, as the text of the bill often doesn’t tell you about the implications and consequences of the law. The point is, truly understanding the pros and cons of any initiative takes time and research beyond simply reading the text of the bill.

    This is not about what everyone in a perfect world “should” do. It’s about what people actually will do. You could dismiss the debate on obesity by saying that everyone should just eat right and exercise more, that even busy people can make the time to be active and prepare healthy meals. Saying that probably won’t solve the problem though.

    Besides, even if everyone, hypothetically, can make the time to be well-informed about every issue under the current system, that doesn’t mean that making these issues easier to understand is a bad idea. It would save time for the already well-informed, decrease the influence that attack ads and biased campaigns have on those who are less well-informed, and make democracy more accessible for everyone.

  35. beerBoy says:

    alindasue – I can’t comment on the liquor initiative(s) as, being out-of-state I didn’t study them closely, but it has been noted by several writers in various states that the initiative process is oftentimes abused by those who write intentionally misleading, obfuscatory initiatives – usually offering them as an “alternative” to another initiative, seeming to offer the same thing but, in actuality being the direct opposite.

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