Meeting Minutes from inSPIRE Social on Sept. 17, 2006  

We had our sixth social event of 2006 at Adrienne and Jim s home on Phinney Ridge. We had a packed house with twenty seven guests to hear our guest speaker, Christian Sinderman. Once again I think we outdid ourselves with the great spread of potluck dishes!

Keynote Speaker, political consultant Christian Sinderman, Founder of Northwest Passage Consulting ( Christian Sinderman has worked on many high-profile political campaigns including serving as Maria Cantwell s Communications Director in her upset victory in 2000. Christian has worked on political campaigns of all levels, as well as assisting businesses, environmental organizations, unions and tribes with communications, public relations and grassroots strategies. Christian is a frequent voice in our local media. He currently heads Northwest Passage Consulting, a full-service and communications firm based in Seattle.

We asked Christian to begin his talk by describing his efforts in confronting Tim Eyman and his multiple whacky initiatives. Christian reviewed Eyman s history over the past few years. Christian s interactions with Eyman began in 2001. Prior to this time, Eyman had achieved success with multiple initiatives, including his first effort which cut car tabs to $30. As big of a tax revenue reduction as this was, in the end this car tab initiative didn t turn out to be terrible for our state services because the state was able to backfill the lost revenue from other sources.

In 2001 Christian was opposing Eyman s property tax initiative, I-747. Unfortunately, the efforts against this initiative faced a serious uphill battle, and Christian knew that Eyman would likely win. Since this initiative came with clever marketing slogans that the public would likely accept, the strategy Christian was forced to employ was to try and find a distraction from directly addressing the initiative. A little investigating into Eyman s financial operations, which were in the public records, indicated that something funny was going on.

Eyman had a huge grassroots fundraising base during this time, collecting contributions of $1,000 or $1,500 from multiple contributors with different concerns. Eyman had bucketed these funds into his campaign s account, but also was transferring some of these funds to a private account. While not being illegal, this was still curious . So, in their public debates, Christian would confront Eyman on this, and Eyman seemed to squirm.

After the election, in which Eyman s initiative passed, Eyman made significant transfers of money to this private account in excess of $300,000. Finally, a reporter agreed to dig into this, which led to Eyman coming clean and admit that he was paying himself a handsome salary for his work, killing his I am a voluntary worker for the people image. This acknowledgement of his devious, but not illegal actions did much to kill Eyman s grassroots fundraising, but it didn t stop Tim! No, for this man is resilient! Eyman gave back some money and then used different tactics in fundraising. First he raised some funds from Indian tribes for an initiative effort. Next, he started to receive significant contributions from a single individual donor. This individual coughed-up $500,000 for an initiative that pushed for a performance audit in state government which was effectively already required, plus gave Eyman an extra $100,000 in salary.

Eyman s next initiative attempted to repeal gay rights. Eyman made a strategic blunder on this one by not coordinating with our state s most influential anti-gay activists, both local ministers. This snubbing insured the minister s not supporting Eyman. Eyman then received another large donation from the same wealthy individual donor to the tune of $450,000 for another tax initiative, which fell short.

After putting in over $1,000,000 into Eyman initiatives with very little to show for it, it will be interesting to see if this individual donor continues to give. Also, Eyman has alienated many in his base. These combine to provide Eyman with an interesting challenge to raise funds for his initiatives in the future.

We then turned to Questions and Answers.

Q What can we do about the initiative process?
A In Washington State initiatives came into affect in 1916 as a reform movement. To get rid of the initiative process would require a revision to our state s constitution, which is very difficult. Reforms have been attempted, including an attempt to ban paying signature gathers, but this was declared unconstitutional (a violation of free speech). Oregon has gone to requiring that signature gathers get paid by the hour, not the signature. This effectively raised the cost of the process by 40%, which just meant only the best funded initiatives went forward. This is arguably not good seeing how wealthy special interests are funding many initiatives today and would just end up with their money have even more influence. In Washington State, signature gathers must now sign and verify the validity of each sheet they fill.

A current problem progressives are facing in Washington is that our Attorney General, Rob McKenna, a Republican, has hired a guy from the building industry (BIW) to craft the ballot language for the initiatives! Thus, in this upcoming election, he fully biased the information voters will read to make the conservative initiatives sound great and the liberal initiatives sound bad. This has lead to even a greater need for voter outreach and education or else some really bad initiatives (like I-933) will pass while good ones (like I-937) will fail.

The Building Industry of Washington (BIW) has very deep pockets. They received funds originally raised in the Workers Compensation process. Unused funds are then channeled into pro-development initiatives/campaigns, without many of the original building association union members who paid the funds even knowing what is happening. So, each year they have tons of cash to skew our government towards weaker zoning laws and stronger property rights .

In general, most citizens support the initiative process. In Seattle, about 70% of voters favor the process.

Q Why are initiatives always so self serving ?
A That s the nature of the process, even with good initiatives. Take I-937 (Clean Energy Initiative) as an example. Requiring our state to provide renewable energy has been worked on down in Olympia, but not passed because of the undo influence the power companies have over the elected officials in their districts even the Democrats. So, they re able to kill the bills . So, frustrated pro-clean-energy folks raised some funds and got the initiative process going. Now, because of the nature of a grassroots initiative such as this without industry s deep pockets, I-937 is facing some financial problems (as well as a misleading explanation in the voters guide see above).

An example of a well-funded self-serving initiative is the current initiative to repeal the estate tax. In reality, our state estate tax would only affect about 200 wealthy people a year and is geared to not affect farms, etc. The cash raised from this tax is around $100,000,000 a year and all goes towards education. To combat this tax, two main contributors have come forward: builder Martin Selig at $850,000 and our mega-retail store man John Nordstrom at $100,000. Surprisingly, the biggest proponents of the state estate tax are the Gates, both father and son. It s pretty good marketing when the richest guy in the world says I think the estate tax is a reasonable way to give back, and I m happy it goes to education . But it s hard to beat the marketing of taxing the dead is evil , even though this tax actually impacts most within our society in a very positive way.

The far-right pushed the recent anti-gay initiative and lost. Why? Partly due to the fact that many of their constituents are not as closed minded as the preachers that preach the evil of homosexuality to them. Enough of the religious right crossed over to defeat this initiative.

Q Can t we limit the amount of money people can give to this initiative process?
A We could, but that s considered unconstitutional and anyway, it may make things worse. If limits were passed, all that would happen is folks like the BIW would create Political Action Committees to channel the money into their causes, and it would then be harder to trace where the money is really coming from. It is extremely hard to take the money out of politics.

Q What is your take on the upcoming state legislative races?
A In 1994 a strong Washington State Democrat majority switched over to a Republican majority. Since that time, in Washington State, Democrats have been gaining back votes, largely in a geographical donut-shaped area around Seattle. Many of these folks have never before voted Democrat. But many of these areas have been facing population growth and higher density, which leads to folks beginning to appreciate many Democrat issues, such as growth management, environmental protection, etc. On the eastside, more districts are looking to go Democrat, some as high as 60%. South King County is tougher. Many folks there tend to be strong in their anti-tax views, gun-rights views, etc. even though many of the services that are cut with tax cuts would benefit them.

Prediction: Democrats will gain two to three seats in both the state House and Senate in November.

Q What is the latest polling on the takings initiative, I-933?
A The way this initiative is worded, public opinion started out 60% in FAVOR of I-933! Yikes! But once voter education is completed on the true horrible impact of this initiative, it s not hard to convince people as to how terrible it would be. But it s hard to get a consistent message for all audiences, so many messages need to get out, including examples such as it s a big loophole giveaway to developers , it aims to repeal federal law such as the Clean Air Act, which is illegal to do at the state level , and it requires taxpayers to pay developers to not do currently illegal development , etc.

The No on I-933 campaign is looking for volunteers and donations, especially with phone banking. Multiple inSPIRE members are planning to canvass together (see below). Also, visit

Q Where does the Estate Tax Initiative stand?
A It s going to be tough to win on this one. The catchy ads ( don t tax the dead ) work well.

Q Where do we stand with the judicial races? Aren t these races crucial?
A Yes, they are. Currently, Washington State has a very ambiguous supreme court. It s very middle-of-the-road . The building industry and others on the far-right have put a squeeze play on the court. We may be facing a very hostile, far-right court in the future. Women voters may vote for one rightwing judge (Jeanette Burrage) just because she s a woman, not realizing her terrible record. At present, about 70% of voters remain undecided, as usual, on the judicial races. Most of these races will be decided in the primary since any candidate that receives 50% or more of the primary vote is the declared race winner. If elected, they serve for a full six years.

Q Is it crazy that we elect judges in our state?
A Yes, because hardly anyone votes in these races and they are so important!

Q What s your take on the election on the Federal level?
A The map looks pretty good. It s possible that Democrats could gain control, but they have a long way to go. It s hard to tell. Democrats have the habit of stealing defeat from the jaws of victory . And amazing achievements by Republicans will likely happen over the next five or six weeks, such as gas prices dropping, the #2 guy at Al-Qaeda being capture/killed yet again, etc. However, we don t need that many voters to switch to Democrat to win control, but we just need them in the right states, like Ohio.

Q Is Mike McGavick s campaign done?
A Campaigns are more often lost then won, and over the past two weeks, McGavick has created a huge mess for himself. Everyone knows he lied about his DUI. But he will continue to run a strong campaign.

Q How will Darci Burner fair in the 8th Congressional District?
A The polls are not clear. If this is a good year for Democrats, she will win. She ll likely win Bellevue, Mercer Island and Newcastle. But many Democrats in South King County like the Sherriff . And he looks good! Sadly, good looks matter to a lot to voters.

Q Can you comment on the new electronic voting machines in some states?
A I m concerned, but don t know the full, latest story. (Editor Note: visit to see a current study). Republicans are cynical enough that they would be this devious. It s really, really scary what could come out of this. Absentee ballots are helpful. When we go to all vote by mail in Washington it will be better for our state at least.

Q Any comments on Maria Cantwell s support of the Iraq War?
A Maria has heard the message from progressives loud and clear . She s a classic policy wonk, which can be good and bad. She recently admitted if she knew then what she knows now that she would not have supported invading Iraq.

Q How will Joe Lieberman fair?
A He s currently ahead, and is campaigning smart. This is a sad situation. There is only a limited amount of money in the political process, and millions have been spent on this campaign by both Lieberman and Ned Lamont that could have been spent on critical races in other states. Democrats have lost so much ground in the past twelve years. We need to stop beating each other up! Republicans tend to accept their popular moderates while Democrats rip each other up.

Q How could progressive activists, such as us inSPIRE members, do better?
A First, if you re fed up with things, run for office. (Like Eric Oemig!) Second, it s really important to get involved in political campaigns at the grassroots level, i.e., to go knock on doors. Third, work on ways to link our key progressive issues into the mainstream. Show folks how important these issues are to them.

Q How will John McCain do in 2008?
A McCain s problem is that he comes across angry, and voters tend to like the sunshine man . Tough for him to overcome this.

It was approaching 9:00 on a school night, so we cut the questions off there. Many thanks to Christian for his insights and his time, as well as for what he does to promote progressive issues throughout our community. What an enlightening and fun evening!

Other announcements

Eric Oemig s campaign for state senate: Eric has pulled ahead in the polls and is in the key final weeks of his campaign for Washington State Senate in the 45th district (Kirkland). Eric is a charter inSPIRE member and his first campaign event was at our first inSPIRE social this year. inSPIRE member Brad Johnson spent five hours helping Eric campaign last Saturday. We have another opportunity to help Eric this coming Saturday. 9/23. Congressman Jay Inslee will be in Eric s district to rally volunteers on Saturday! Chat with Jay and Eric, maybe snap a picture (bring a camera), then go canvassing to support Eric s campaign. This begins at 1:00 PM.

Location: Sheetmetal Workers Hall, on 126th Place, near Slater Avenue, Kirkland

Directions: From I-405, take the 124th Street exit. Go east on 124th (if coming from the south, that means turn right; if coming from the north, turn left). Follow 124th Street about mile. Left onto 132nd Place/Slater Avenue. First right onto 126th Place. About 3 blocks on the right, look for Eric s signs.

Already four of us inSPIRE members have volunteered to help with this event (Dave, Robin, Newt and Jim.

For more information:

Call Eric s campaign at (425) 968-8798 or email

No on Initiative 933 Campaign Dave handed out yard signs to all takers. Dave, Will, Diane and Adrienne are going to meet to go canvassing and hang educational materials on doorknobs. Defeating this initiative is CRUCIAL.

Healthcare Access for All Rally Chris Covert-Bowlds, MD, passed out fliers on a rally to be held September 30th from 10:00AM to Noon (rain or shine) at the North Seattle Public Health Clinic at 10501 Meridian Ave N (north parking lot). This rally is to oppose the Health Department s recent decision to close the North Seattle and Northshore (Bothell) Public Health and Dental Centers as a way to balance the budget. If this happens, thousands of patients will lose access to healthcare. Other low-cost clinics do not have the capacity to see these patients. Emergency room visits will increase with patients unable to pay. If effect if these healthcare centers close, our entire community loses! Come listen to music and community speakers. Free snacks!

Also, please contact the following to let your voice be heard in opposition to the closure of these important Public Health Clinics:
Ron Sims (206) 296-4040 or
King County Council (206) 206-296-1000 or
Public Health of Seattle/King County (206) 296-4600 or

inSPIRE Book Club! we recently finished Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al Franken, a fun spin on the rightwing media machine. Our next book is Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver.

To join the book club and get on the list, just send an email to

Additional Discussion as is always the case, much more was brought up during the rest of our meeting, but, once again, your faithful note-taker got caught up in just listening and enjoying the nice summer evening, and forgot to write all that good stuff down! Sorry! But rest assured we had a very fun and rewarding time. See you at the next inSPIRE meeting!

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