Inside Opinion

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Tag: initiatives and referenda


Open government under attack in R-71 case

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Voters long ago settled the debate over Referendum 71, the law. Now the nation’s highest court will decide Referendum 71, the test case.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court takes up the question of whether disclosing the names of people who signed petitions to qualify R-71 for the ballot is a violation of their political speech rights.

On one side is Washington’s Attorney General Rob McKenna, who is arguing for disclosure and for whom the case could make or break his expected bid for governor.

On the other side is a formidable foe, James Bopp Jr., an Indiana lawyer on a mission to dismantle the country’s campaign-finance laws who can spot an opportunity to further his cause half a country away.

May McKenna and Washington prevail. The case – the first time the Supreme Court has weighed a state’s public disclosure laws – is a frontal assault on open government in Washington and many other states.

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A split decision on two petition bills

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

Two bills still alive in the Legislature take on the state’s initiative/referendum petition-gathering process. Lawmakers should pass one and do some major surgery on the other.

The one that makes sense is Senate Bill 6754, which would clarify that the names and addresses of people signing initiative or referendum petitions are public records and may be released as part of a public records request.

That information has long been available. But it’s an issue now because of the legal challenge surrounding Referendum 71 petitions in 2009 aimed at overturning the state’s “everything but marriage” domestic partner law. R-71 sponsors claimed release of petition signers’ names would open them up to harassment. Read more »


Initiative petitions: Get ‘em while they’re still public?

A former lobbyist for the Washington Association of Realtors has coughed up $1,589 to get copies of the petition sheets from 11 citizen initiatives dating back to 2000.

I previously speculated that Bryan Wahl could be trying to get copies of old petitions while the getting’s good since the fight over Referendum 71’s petition sheets has threatened to shut down public disclosure of the names of people who sign initiatives and referenda.

R-71 sponsors say public release is a violation of petition signers’ First Amendment right to anonymous political speech. The Secretary of State’s office maintains

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The Secretary of State’s petition saga continues

When we last visited the unfolding political drama over Referendum 71, it had been revealed that the Secretary of State’s position that R-71 petitions could be released unredacted was something of a recent development.

Now comes news that the fight over R-71 petitions might have spurred an enterprising political operative to try to get copies of old initiative petitions while the getting’s good. The Secretary of State has received a request from someone trying to determine the costs of obtaining petitions for several initiatives dating back to 2000. Tim Eyman has sent a letter (pdf) to the Secretary

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R-71 petition secrecy: It’s about government integrity

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Last week’s court injunction against the release of R-71 petitions may look like it’s all about that hotly disputed measure.

Not so: It’s more like a frontal assault on Washington’s tradition of open government. May the attorney general’s office speedily prevail in its appeal.
U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle on Thursday essentially ordered the secretary of state’s office to seal the signatures on the petitions, which triggered a November referendum to repeal Washington’s newly expanded domestic partnership law.
It’s a “preliminary” injunction, but Settle’s order is so emphatic that it’s likely to stick permanently if the issue is left in his hands.

This is a textbook example of how hard cases can make bad law. The R-71 sponsors who sued for secrecy could cite some uncomfortable facts.

One was last year’s spate of harassment of individual supporters of California’s Proposition 8, which reversed that state’s supreme court decision to legalize gay marriage. Another was the creation of a Web site in Washington – – whose clear purpose was to intimidate would-be supporters of R-71 by threatening to post their names. Its creators want gay-rights advocates to confront signers in “uncomfortable” conversations.

Thanks, guys, for this wonderful ruling.
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