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WA’s campaign to legalize pot blames SEIU, ACLU and Dems for ballot woes

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on June 7, 2010 at 5:53 pm | 14 Comments »
June 8, 2010 12:17 pm

Shortly after the AP reported today that I-1068, the initiative campaign for legalizing marijuana in Washington, is having trouble gathering enough signatures to qualify the measure for this year’s ballot, the campaign issued a lengthy press release. Among other things, it blames Service Employees International Union (SEIU) for “walk(ing) away” from the campaign.

Campaign coordinator Philip Dawdy quotes himself in the press release, saying:

“Politics in this state stink,” said Philip Dawdy, I-1068 campaign director and an initiative co-author. “Marijuana smells better. It’s disappointing that SEIU and others have walked away from us, but this campaign will fight on because the issue is simply too important.”

Dawdy said he’s especially frustrated that the SEIU and others walked away from I-1068 after romancing it for a month because Sensible Washington, sponsors of I-1068, originally approached the state Democratic Party and others in progressive politics back in February, asking for advice and guidance on running a successful initiative campaign. Sensible Washington was ignored until May when it became apparent I-1068 would be a good voter turnout tool. Sensible Washington was told that various political actors in this state felt marijuana law reform was a fringe issue and that people were nervous about potentially being tied to such a campaign.

In a phone call I had with Dawdy today after receiving the press release, he added that he partially blames state Democratic leadership and the ACLU of Washington for their lack of support for the campaign. “F*** them all,” he said of the three groups his campaign is now directly or partially blaming.

“I don’t know what happened or why they (SEIU) walked away,” he added. “But in the end… they’re afraid to support us because they’re either politically afraid or because their mommies will find out they smoke weed. A bunch of chickensh** rich people.”

Dawdy noted that while SEIU was in direct talks with the campaign about supporting the measure, neither state Dems or the ACLU ever were. Still, he said he’s upset at both of those groups for their lack of support to a campaign that Dawdy said normally should have garnered backing from both groups.

State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz told me in a phone call tonight that I-1068 did come to the party seeking financial help.

“I said that we wouldn’t do that because while there was a lot of support, it wasn’t a priority issue for us,” Pelz said.

Pelz agreed that many local Democratic organizations support the cause, and he expects a resolution to endorse the measure will be introduced at the state party’s coming convention. “But at this point we have not endorsed it,” he said, adding state Dems were not involved in the initiative’s early planning or strategy sessions.

“We never gave an expectation of support and then dropped it,” Pelz added.

(I’ve sent emails to SEIU and the ACLU for comment and will update the post if I hear anything.)

( UPDATE 9:45 a.m. In an email I received Tuesday morning in response to my question asking for comment on the issue, SEIU Local 775 spokesman Adam Glickman wrote: “Nothing to add beyond what’s already been reported.”

UPDATE II: 11:50 a.m. I received a phone call from Doug Honig, spokesman of the ACLU of WA, who said: “I don’t think we have anything new to say. Our position on the initiative has been pretty clear and consistent. When it first came out we posted a position about it and it hasn’t changed. We certainly support the goal of decriminalizing marijuana and legalizing it, but we had some concerns about this specific initiative and didn’t think it was a successful strategy.”)

Still, Dawdy, a former Seattle Weekly reporter, was fuming during my brief phone talk with him today. “It’s going to get even uglier,” he vowed.

The “Sensible Washington” campaign says it has more than 100,000 signatures to date. To qualify, it needs more than 241,000 by July 2.

Here’s I-1068’s full press release:

June 7, 2010
For Immediate Release
Contact: Philip Dawdy, 206-694-3948 or philip.dawdy@gmail.com

Via an Associated Press reporter, Sensible Washington learned earlier this afternoon that the Service Employees International Union and other players in progressive causes in Washington State have declined to financially support paid signature gathering for I-1068. Over the last month, the SEIU and others in state politics have talked with Sensible Washington about steps they could take to ensure that the initiative turned in enough signatures to qualify for this November’s ballot because marijuana legalization being on the ballot would drive extra voter turnout in ways that would benefit progressive causes and candidates in November in what’s shaping up to be a tough year for Democrats and progressive issues. Now after stringing the I-1068 campaign along for four weeks, they’ve walked.

“Politics in this state stink,” said Philip Dawdy, I-1068 campaign director and an initiative co-author. “Marijuana smells better. It’s disappointing that SEIU and others have walked away from us, but this campaign will fight on because the issue is simply too important.”

Dawdy said he’s especially frustrated that the SEIU and others walked away from I-1068 after romancing it for a month because Sensible Washington, sponsors of I-1068, originally approached the state Democratic Party and others in progressive politics back in February, asking for advice and guidance on running a successful initiative campaign. Sensible Washington was ignored until May when it became apparent I-1068 would be a good voter turnout tool. Sensible Washington was told that various political actors in this state felt marijuana law reform was a fringe issue and that people were nervous about potentially being tied to such a campaign.

“It’s 2010 and we’re still facing the old-fashioned, out-dated stigma around marijuana,” said Dawdy. “Voters are five to ten years ahead of the Legislature and the powers-that-be on marijuana law reform. We have a little over three weeks to go and now is the perfect time for the citizens of this state to register their discontent with this state’s marijuana laws and this state’s politics by signing I-1068. We’re going to fight for the people of this state until the end.”

“If we get some more volunteers, we can legalize marijuana in Washington State,” said Jeffrey Steinborn, an initiative co-author and Seattle-based attorney who has defended marijuana users for three decades. I-1068 currently has a volunteer base of 1.800 people and the petition is hosted at over 200 businesses statewide.

The I-1068 campaign has faced down numerous obstacles since forming in January: banks refusing to process online donations; a lack of funding; the ACLU of Washington publicly announcing its non-support of I-1068; police seizing signed I-1068 petitions; a very cold and wet spring which has hampered signature gathering; and an initiative process that is clearly tilted against average citizens and in favor of big moneyed interests.

“The armchair liberals at the ACLU have decided that marijuana shouldn’t be legalized this year,” said Steinborn. “If they’d given us a neutral response, we could’ve raised the funds to get this on the ballot, but they didn’t.”

Another problem the campaign has faced is getting people with signed petitions to turn them in. The I-1068 campaign currently has over 20,000 petitions–enough for 400,000-plus signatures–in circulation in this state that have not come back into the campaign’s Seattle offices. To date, well over 100,000 people have signed the initiative. The campaign’s goal is to collect 320,000 signatures.

In the past, other all-volunteer initiative efforts have collected well over 200,000 signatures in the final weeks of June.

“We’re really looking forward to the public getting signed petitions into us sooner rather than later,” said Dawdy. “Hanging onto them until the end of June could create a logistical logjam.”

The campaign has until June 30 to collect 241,153 valid signatures and turn them in to the Secretary of State’s office.

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