I would like to let people know why I strongly support amending our Pierce County charter to reduce the signature requirements for initiatives and referendums.
When I was a college student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, I became involved in the California water wars of the early 1990s. My opposition to the State Water Project was borne out of my passion for the environment and the simple truth that the project did not make financial sense.
My friends and I took on city hall, and, with initial polling showing us down by 40 points, we won by 6. The council jettisoned the vote of the people and went in the opposite direction. We countered by gathering more than 30 percent of the signatures of all registered voters in the city in just 28 days to overturn the council’s ill-advised ordinance.
While on the phone celebrating our petition drive success with my friend Richard, there came a knock at his door. He left momentarily, returned and picked up the phone swearing about how we were being sued.
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And so went the next 18 months of my life. In the end, the good guys prevailed: We won in court, we got lawyer’s fees and we kicked out the council majority.
It was a great learning experience about how a small group of people can join together and make a difference in their community. It made me embrace the initiative process as a check on government from the beginning of my political career.
What I remember from that campaign 25 years ago was the difficulty in gathering signatures. Be it in California or Washington, there are plenty of barriers to putting a measure on the ballot — a miasma of rules on where you can gather signatures, the costs of defending yourself in court or actually getting to the point of running a successful campaign, to name a few.
This is where the News Tribune Editorial Board got it wrong in its endorsement against county charter amendments 41 and 42. Reducing the signature limit for Pierce County voters won’t lead to a run on the initiative process — but it will lead to empowering citizens to get involved, stay involved and hold their government accountable.
As it stands, there has never been a successful initiative petition drive in our county and only three successful referendum drives. Pierce County requires more than twice the percentage of signatures than the state to qualify a referendum, and it has a 25 percent higher threshold for the initiative process.
Your elected 2016 Charter Review Commission saw that disparity, and 20 of 21 members of that commission voted to send the two amendments to the November ballot for your approval. As part of a bipartisan effort to make these changes and, in an election year where we have seen more partisan strife than ever before, I urge you to join us in our quest to give Pierce County voters a stronger say in their government.
Please vote yes on Charter Amendments 41 and 42.
Timothy M. Farrell of Tacoma is a former Pierce County Charter Review commissioner and former County Council member.