The long election season is finally coming to a close. And while many of us are decided on the choices we have at the top of the ticket, and even the lower ticket races, we here in Washington still have the added civic duty to wade through the various initiatives and referendums to make an informed choices on policies that can affect our communities.
I admit that I am still a little skeptical of the initiative process, especially having developed my political maturity back east in a state did not have initiatives. I always feel that we elect representatives for a reason, to be seasoned and experienced leaders who are able to fully digest issues and make informed decisions on behalf of the public good. Ballot initiatives are left to the whim of the people to vote their own self interest and be swayed by advertising and propaganda.
Of course, it doesn’t always work this way. Legislatures and governmental bodies can get embroiled in political infighting and deadlock, and don’t always work for the public good. And initiatives can then bring about positive policy, harnessing the will of the people when elected leaders are unable to act.
We need only look at I-1491, Extreme Risk Protection Orders, on the ballot this fall. This act of gun responsibility will give law enforcement a tool needed to confiscate a gun of a person who poses a demonstrated threat of harm to themselves or others. Through a due process, family members, loved ones and others can petition the courts to issue such an order that will save lives in cases of domestic violence, suicide, etc.
The reason this reasonable act of gun responsibility wound up on the ballot is because the Washington State Legislature refused to act on it. The bill was introduced and supported by a large coalition of civic groups and yet failed to pass. The organized Jewish community was part of the coalition in support of the bill—I even testified on behalf of the Jewish community in favor of it.
If the Legislature wouldn’t act, then the people would. The Alliance for Gun Responsibility was able to get enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot where it will hopefully pass. I have endorsed this measure, as has Temple Beth Hatfiloh as an organization. If we are meant as a Jewish community to preserve life, to not stand idly by the blood of our neighbor (as the Torah says) and do what we can to mitigate harm, then Extreme Risk Protection Orders makes important policy. It preserves our rights while at the same time it limits the damage that can be done through the exercise of these rights.Gun responsibility can save lives, that is clear, and I urge you to consider supporting I-1491.
I don’t always make public endorsements of initiatives (and never on candidates) but another ballot measure I feel personally compelled as an individual to support this year is the local ballot Initiative 1: Opportunity for Olympia. This program will levy an excise tax on Olympia residents who earn in excess of $200,000 to fund community college and job training for Olympia residents.
This initiative is not without its controversy. Many of the arguments against it have to do with the policy implications; whether or not it is good policy. But, to be honest, while I respect the opinions, many of these arguments ring hollow to me: the fact that this was initiated by outside groups (politics is never completely local these days). The fact that it will cost the city money to fight the measure in court, money that could have been spent on social services (I am sure legal defense funds would be set up by the interested parties, and besides, if the city had actually committed all the funds they claim it is going to cost in legal fees to delivering social services, then I may reconsider), and that it will be impossible to administer (I am of the mind that if there is a political will there is a policy way.)
And I am not even in support of this initiative primarily because of the education piece, though I do value education greatly and have two children who will be looking at higher education in the next few years.
I am in support of Initiative 1 for one basic reason: ever since moving to Washington State I have been appalled at the fact that because of the emphasis on sales taxes, our state has one of the most regressive tax systems in the nation, with the poorest of our state spending a higher percentage of their income on taxes. And to have such a regressive tax system is nothing less than immoral. This proposition may set up a court challenge that will pave the way for a graduated income tax in our state. And a graduated income tax could be more equitable and fair for all.
In last week’s Torah portion, Bereshit, the first portion of the Torah we read after having renewed our annual cycle with Simchat Torah, we read that famous story of Cain and Abel in which Cain, having killed his brother in a fit of jealousy, defends himself to God by saying “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The question is ironic and rhetorical because we already know the answer: yes, we are our brother’s keeper.
It is our obligation to do that which is best for those with whom we are in community and relationship. And when the legislature does not act, it is upon us to. The initiative system is not the best, and the initiatives put forward may not be the best, but as the saying goes, “don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good.”
Economic inequality, especially as it relates to taxation, is one of the most harmful and pervasive issues in our state. It is a moral issue and my religious tenets demand that we address it. And if there is a potential step toward rectifying it, a step toward a more equitable tax system, a step toward a more fair distribution of wealth, then I believe it is a step we must take. Even if it is a risk, it is a risk worth trying.