11 Initiatives Statement
Why the 11 Initiatives didn’t qualify. This time.
As of the recent signature-gathering deadline, none of the 11 initiatives in Let’s Go Washington’s project to fix what’s broken in this state had collected enough signatures to proceed.
Why did our project fall short? Here are my key takeaways:
1) Although the initiative process was set up to be a tool for grassroots action, it has—in recent years—been dominated by deep-pocketed special interests, increasingly expensive consultants, and paid signature gatherers. In 2022, initiative efforts from all points on the political spectrum failed because consultants were demanding $4 million to $8 million (per initiative!) to collect the necessary signatures. Let’s Go Washington (www.letsgowa.com) was founded on the idea that building a grassroots volunteer network and weening the process from an overreliance on consultants is a worthwhile pursuit. However, this takes time—more than we first thought. I’m proud of the incredible effort made by those who volunteered in this first wave. We will continue to build on that.
2) We live in a digital world, but in Washington initiative petitions only count if they are in hard copy. We also live in a privacy-focused world. Asking hundreds of thousands of people to hand over their signature and address on a piece of paper to a stranger is difficult. With nearly all of our political discourse happening online via social media, there’s a mismatch with how we collect signatures. We’re still qualifying initiatives like we did when we were renting VHS tapes from Blockbuster. Add to this the frustration many people feel because WA courts have overturned popular initiatives like the $30 car-tab limit, and we get a system that needs major reform in order to restore people’s faith. During our signature gathering effort, we experimented with ways to reach people online and encourage them to go out and physically sign the initiatives. We obviously still have a lot of work to do here.
3) The Olympia establishment, regardless of party, is happy to see the initiative process struggle. Washington’s initiative system was designed as a “safety valve” for when the legislature passes laws opposed by the majority of voters. Lately, the legislature has shown itself willing to ignore the people—repeatedly. Preventing police from pursuing criminals, decriminalizing hard drugs (like heroin and fentanyl), and passing a never-ending stream of new state taxes are all unpopular. And even unconstitutional. Let’s Go Washington proposed common-sense fixes to 11 of these bad policies. It’s not surprising that the Olympia majorities dismissed our efforts. Those bad policies are their fault. It was somewhat surprising, however, that even on the minority side, we found less than enthusiastic support and even dismissal. Stronger coalitions with a broader group of citizens and support from leaders seems like a critical element to future success.
So what needs to be done? I’m still chewing on how to improve our efforts next time. We began the process of developing a grassroots infrastructure that can make a real difference. It will continue to grow and develop. The initiative process remains a crucial element of democracy and government, even though the political establishment dismisses it and the consultant class squeezes it for profit.
Properly organized initiatives can ensure that the laws we live under are aligned with the people’s will. Whatever the next steps involve, I am committed to making that good reform happen.
Brian K. Heywood