Opinion

Bainbridge: new hotbed of Eymanism?

They are ruining our community.

They can’t be trusted with our money.

They should put it all to a public vote.

Funny times are these, when the rhetoric flying around liberal Bainbridge Island sounds remarkably like that coming out of the Tim Eyman camp. But scattered calls for a vote on the Winslow Tomorrow downtown planning initiative have carried a timbre ironically like that of the anti-tax crusader’s permanently offensive peel.

Eyman resurfaced in the news columns this week, turning in a bushel of signatures to put his latest anti-tax measure on the November ballot. If passed, I-960 would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature for any state tax increase, and legislative approval of any fee increase by state agencies (which now have general discretion to set their own fees, within certain limitations).

Any state tax increase also would be placed on the ballot for a public advisory vote.

Closer to home, some islanders wary of a changing downtown have demanded that aspects of Winslow Tomorrow – from proposed building height increases, to the whole kit and caboodle – be put on a ballot for islanders to decide. Amongst the reasons cited: downtown improvements will cost too much, and those making the decisions are agenda-driven, too out of touch with the desires of ordinary citizens.

Leaving the merits of I-960 and Winlsow Tomorrow to another discussion, there is a commonality in the themes used by supporters of one and opponents of the other. Fear of higher taxes is one; an innate distrust of representative democracy and elected officials – the remote and unresponsive “they” of so much rhetoric – is another, and far more pernicious. And the supposed solution to our civic woes? More “direct democracy,” giving the people more votes on more issues.

Which raises an obvious question: why even have a Legislature, or for that matter a City Council, if not to make tough decisions? We’ve said this before, and we’ll repeat it here: if representative democracy doesn’t work at the local level, where does it work? Either we have faith in our island representatives – elected by us, from among us – to find consensus on complex issues like downtown planning, or we don’t. We should.

It’s unclear whether anyone on the council is considering a referendum on any or all of Winslow Tomorrow.

We tend to think that its most controversial aspects, namely downtown building heights, will be scaled back a bit, blunting much of the opposition through the very deliberative process in which some islanders have so little faith.

Indeed, the best way to shape our future is really through this fall’s elections, in which four of seven City Council seats are up for grabs; the candidates’ views on Winslow Tomorrow can be pivotal.

It would be a Bainbridge quirk to oppose Eyman’s initiative to refer every tax increase to Washington voters, and with our next breath demand a public vote on Winslow Tomorrow.

Better to ask the right questions of our candidates, cast our votes come November, and let real American democracy – the representative kind – take its course.

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Clarification

• The Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council has not yet officially undertaken sponsorship of the “Bainbridge in the Seventies” documentary project (Editorial, July 4), so interested contributors should contact Kathleen Thorne directly at 842.0985 or dthorne@ix.netcom.com.

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