Tim Eyman doesn’t need a chair; he needs to be benched

Tim Eyman under investigation in theft of chair from Lacey Office Depot

Lacey police were called to the Office Depot on Sleater Kinney Road Southeast on Wednesday. Store employees said they noticed an office chair was missing from a display near the front door and identified the suspect as Eyman from surveillance video.
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Lacey police were called to the Office Depot on Sleater Kinney Road Southeast on Wednesday. Store employees said they noticed an office chair was missing from a display near the front door and identified the suspect as Eyman from surveillance video.

Few stories grab headlines like a good whodunit or a did-he-do-it. Case in point: This month’s shoplifting caper starring Tim Eyman, Washington’s irrepressible anti-tax ballot initiative pitchman, has left people on the edge of their seats.

Eyman allegedly stole a $70 chair from the Office Depot store in Lacey on Feb. 13 but claims he intended to pay for it. Prosecutors filed a theft charge against him Tuesday.

Forgive us for not biting our nails with suspense.

Misdemeanor cases aren’t high priority for authorities, and we won’t be surprised if this one’s settled with the central question of criminal intent left hanging. But Eyman clearly took something of value — in living color, caught on a surveillance camera.

By all rights the last strands of his threadbare credibility with the public should now be gone. His reckless behavior and blithe demeanor should also be unacceptable to the conservative movement he helped spawn.

It’s time for Eyman to take a seat on the bench. His partners and donors should tell him to step aside, at least until his numerous legal problems are resolved.

For two decades, the initiative monger from Mukilteo, whose career seems like one long publicity stunt, has cultivated an outsized persona non grata status at the state Capitol. His little-guy-against-big-government act has enriched him to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The court jester routine was sort of cute back when Eyman staged media events dressed as a gorilla or Darth Vader. But his legal problems have steadily mounted, including a three-year state investigation into more than $300,000 in kickbacks he allegedly received from an initiative petition signature-gathering firm.

Friday, he was in court fighting a possible lifetime ban on his financial involvement in political activities.

By comparison, the Office Depot incident might seem minor, but it’s emblematic of Eyman’s shtick. Surveillance video shows him sizing up the chair in the front vestibule of the store and then trying it out — at least two swivels and a leanback — before rolling it through the sliding glass doors and across the parking lot.

Not since early February, when Eyman demanded to sit at the governor’s desk after a ceremonial bill signing, has he appeared so comfy in a chair that doesn’t belong to him.

Eyman and his attorneys say it was just a mixup. They claim that after he re-entered the store minutes later and bought other supplies, he intended to add the chair to his bill, but was distracted by a cell phone call.

Shoplifting? Perish the thought, they say. “The reason that doesn’t make any sense is because it doesn’t make any sense,” Eyman said in a statement, his logic more circular than a swivel chair ride. “It’s ridiculous, it’s insane, it’s completely unbelievable.”

And yet to inhabit Eyman’s world is to constantly strain credulity. What other accused thief would post a self-narrated online video vanity project of himself trying to return the unpurchased merchandise to the store, then to the police station, then back to the store to heroically buy a different chair?

Come to think of it, what other accused thief would be allowed to perform in this “theater of the absurd” (as Eyman calls it in his 10-minute video) without at some point being taken to jail and booked by police?

Eyman’s attorney, Casey Arbenz, acknowledged to a reporter that it’s “a little unorthodox” to remove a chair from a store before paying for it. But he noted that Eyman didn’t try to conceal his identity, unlike a shoplifting scandal involving a famous actress in 2001.

“This is not a Winona Ryder situation,” Arbenz said.

No, it’s not. Ryder had enough good sense to disappear from the public eye for a long time after her arrest at a Beverly Hills department store.

Eyman’s legal travails date back to 2002, when he acknowledged misusing campaign funds for personal benefit. He’s continued making a good living as the front man for a variety of initiatives, despite more strikeouts than hits in recent years.

He should get frequent-flyer points for his proposal to return car tabs to $30 a year, which will appear on the November ballot. Initiative 976 comes 20 years after voters first approved the $30-tab limit, only to see the state Supreme Court overturn it.

Even if he succeeds on this or other ballot measures, Eyman has to reckon with a $1.8-million political corruption suit filed by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. Eyman filed for bankruptcy protection in November and isn’t shy about asking for donations for his legal defense fund.

It’s no secret that we don’t like Eyman’s irresponsible brand of activism. By inciting voter rebellion against any and all revenue increases, it jeopardizes vital public services and sows distrust of duly elected government leaders.

Even so, ordinary Washingtonians with reasonable concerns about excessive taxes deserve to be heard.

What they need is a credible mouthpiece. What they don’t need is someone increasingly known as a headliner in the theater of the absurd.