Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Battles of Tim Eyman

Although I first heard about this documentary film back in February, when the director Paul Fraser came to a Global Warming lecture at the Mercer Island library, I didn’t get around to watching it until yesterday, after seeing it mentioned in the paper last week.  As you know, I’m a fan of all things local:  I think everyone in Washington state, at least anyone interested in state/local politics should watch it too.

Tim Eyman is an activist famous for leading numerous state-wide ballot initiatives (referendums), mostly in the name of lowering taxes and limiting the power of government.  His claims to fame are various initiatives over the past ten years that ended up lowering car licensing fees and requiring a 2/3rds majority in state legislature to raise taxes.  He says his initiatives have reduced taxes over $11B, but he doesn’t just fight taxes. He also successfully led an effort to reduce the size of the King County City Council, and his organization, Permanent Offense, has fought for various issues related to transportation, including the I-985 (“reduce traffic congestion”) bill that will be on the November 4th ballot.

Although it’s clear the director thinks Eyman is an intriguing, newsworthy guy, this is not a propaganda film, and I find it hard to tell which side he’s on. There are interviews with Eyman himself and supporters like Mercer Island’s Michael Medved who portray him as a “man of the people” trying to “take back the government”.  But these are nicely balanced with persuasive arguments for how citizen-led mass referendums can lead to a lack of accountability.  The film includes lengthy personal interviews with opponents like State Senator Ken Jacobson (D), radio personality BJ Shea, and even David Goldstein, whose popular far-left blog is actually named after an initiative started expressly to have Tim Eyman declared a Horse’s ass.

The film’s not perfect.  I wish there had been more biography for example; I kept hoping there’d be a segment explaining Eyman’s non-activist background (where does he get his money?  what’s his day job?)  At nearly two hours, I found it a bit long; a tougher editor could have turned this into a shorter made-for-TV film that would be more widely watched – as it deserves.

It’s on Netflix, so put it in your queue right now.  Don’t vote in November until you’ve seen it.


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