As a resident of Wenatchee, I support Initiative 517 because I am a strong believer in our initiative rights, which our state has had for over a century. Our right to initiative and petition our government is the most important tool we have to push back when government does things we don’t like.
Initiative 517’s primary policy change is guaranteeing you the right to vote on qualified initiatives.
In a unanimous ruling, the Washington State Supreme Court in 2005 rejected an effort by special interest groups to stop the people from voting on a qualified initiative. Their reason: “Because ballot measures are often used to express popular will and to send a message to elected representatives, pre-election review unduly infringes on free speech.”
Despite this clear ruling by the Supreme Court, dozens of citizen-sponsored initiatives — liberal and conservative — were blocked from a public vote in recent years even though local citizens followed all the rules.
In King County, after local citizens qualified an initiative to reduce the size of the King County Council, the county sued to block the vote.
In Vancouver, after local citizens qualified an initiative for the ballot, the city council refused to let the people vote.
In Spokane, local citizens qualified an initiative for the ballot but special interest groups sued to block the vote.
In Bellingham, Monroe, Mukilteo, Redmond, Longview, and my hometown of Wenatchee, local citizens sponsored initiatives letting the voters decide on red-light ticketing cameras in their communities. In every instance, the city or out-of-state red-light camera company sued the citizens to block the vote. Their lawyers said only politicians were capable of discussing, debating and deciding on ticketing cameras.
They said the topic wasn’t “proper” for the voters to decide.
What’s not “proper” is having the government telling us they know best. What’s not “proper” is the government deciding what issues we, the people, can and can’t express our opinion on.
I was part of a team of local Wenatchee citizens who sponsored one of those red-light camera initiatives. A group of Wenatchee residents started getting signatures, but within weeks the sponsors were individually sued and dragged into court by the out-of-state red light camera company and the city. Their heavy-handed legal attack sabotaged our initiative effort.
Unfortunately, this same thing has happened repeatedly to state and local initiatives.
In every one of these efforts, citizens followed all the rules, yet each of them was hit with expensive, needless obstruction because state law doesn’t clearly mandate a vote on qualified initiatives.
But I-517 fixes that. With I-517, if the initiative qualifies, then the voters decide.
The Legislature is never going to protect the citizens’ initiative process — that’s why Initiative 517 is so important and why I’m supporting it.
I-517 also gives everyone greater access to the initiative process. Since 1912, the number of signatures required to qualify for the ballot has skyrocketed almost tenfold, while the time to manually collect signatures has remained the same at six months. Oregon allows two years, Idaho a year and a half. I-517 simply matches the national average, which is one year to collect signatures.
And I-517 does one other thing that’s really important: It stops initiative opponents from bullying people who want to sign an initiative petition. Bullying — on sidewalks, walkways and other public places — is becoming far too common and I-517 puts a stop to it. I-517 makes it safe for you to exercise your right to participate and vote. I-517 supports democracy, promotes respectful speech and stops bullying.
But what convinced me to support I-517 is its guarantee that we, the people, get to vote on all qualified initiatives. Without I-517, there will never be a Wenatchee initiative on the ballot, even though the state constitution and our city charter guarantees us that right.
With I-517’s protections, future generations will have the chance to have their voices heard at the state and local level.
Please join me and the hundreds of thousands of your fellow citizens who signed Initiative 517 petitions, in voting yes on 517.
April Featherkile is a longtime resident of Wenatchee.