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home : opinion : columnists June 26, 2016

3/6/2013 10:49:00 AM
Just whose government is it?
Bill Forhan

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it...

Thus begins our Declaration of Independence from the King of England and the English government. Our elected representatives would do well to review their history.

Last week the Washington State Supreme Court declared the voter driven initiatives requiring a two-thirds majority of the legislature to pass tax increase legislation is unconstitutional. Essentially, the court declared that such a change requires a change to the state constitution, something that cannot be accomplished by voter initiative but must begin with by an action of the legislature.

Given that most citizens view the constitution as the contract between the people and the government it seems at least a little odd that only the government can initiate a "renegotiation" of the terms of that contract.

As it is currently written there are almost two-dozen articles in the state constitution that require a "super-majority" vote. It is interesting that a number of those articles define what it takes to remove elected officials from office. Including a 75 percent majority to remove a judge or prosecuting attorney.

The people have supported a supermajority vote for tax increases 4 times over the last decade. And our elected representatives have found clever ways to pat the voters on the head and ignore their call for change in the way tax measures are adopted.

I don't fault the court in this case even though I think there is plenty of reason for them to have decided otherwise. The problem is they are supposed to review the laws as currently constructed and make substantive decisions about whether the law followed the constitution. They decided we did not, so we are now left with two choices. First, we can call for the legislature to bring a constitutional amendment to the legislature for a vote, which then would be submitted to the people for ratification; or, we can vote out any and all legislators that do not support such a measure. The latter is much more difficult. Sen. Pam Roach of Auburn has submitted a measure calling for a constitutional amendment - SJR 8205.

What is clear is we have a serious flaw in our state constitution. When "we the people" cannot submit measures to the government to amend our constitution we have created a situation that makes it more difficult to control our elected representatives. The "contract" needs to be negotiated between equals. Which means we each have an equal opportunity to make changes to the contract when it becomes necessary.

"To pass a constitutional amendment off the floor of the Senate, a two-thirds vote (33 members) is required. Even if it were to be approved in the Senate, it would face an uphill battle in the House of Representatives. Time will tell if the votes are there for a constitutional amendment," said our own Senator Linda Evans Parlette regarding SJR 8205.

In other words, it takes a two-thirds vote of our elected representatives to allow "we the people" to decide if we should be able to amend our state constitution - our contract with them. But "we the people" cannot use the initiative process to force them to make changes.

Before you decide to ignore this serious flaw in our state constitution, I suggest you consider the reaction of some of the current Democrat leaders. Shortly after the announcement of the decision, state Democratic Party Chair Dwight Pelz was reported to have exclaimed. "The state Supreme Court struck down Tim Eyman's supermajority rule, which required a two-thirds vote in our Legislature to raise taxes. For years the two-thirds requirement has handcuffed our state, hitting our education system the hardest. The biggest winners today are our state's children, who now have a chance for a fully funded education. It's an odd statement coming from the same Democrats who have violated the state constitution and cut education funding numerous times over the last 8 years.

Send your legislators a letter today to call for passage of SJR 8205. Demand that they return ultimate control of the government to the people. Remind them that they are elected representatives of all of the people - not just the unions, government employees or special interest groups that donate to their campaigns.

Bill Forhan can be reached at 509-548-5286 or

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