There will be a school bond measure on the ballot where I live in rural western Washington. If it passes, local property taxes will increase by about $600 per year for the average home in this area, about a 33% increase. In round numbers, the school board wants to spend $23,000,000 on improvements and upgrades to a high school that has 300 students. When I first read about this, in a mailing sent out by the school district last spring, I was stunned. Since then, there has not been an editorial in the local weekly newspaper. No further mailings. No campaigning. Nothing. I find that amazing.
People in Washington state vote by mail. Ballots will be mailed out in a couple of weeks and the deadline for voters to mail them back is November 4. Since voting can and does happen over a two-week period at the end of October, the time for political advertising and mailers happens about a week from now.
I happen to feel that amount of the proposed bond measure is outrageous for the size of the school. The property tax increase to pay for school improvements will last for 30 years and — who’s kidding who? — long before that bond is paid for, the school district will have need for further special funding. Because of my strong feelings, I have been giving thought to putting out my own mailing or newspaper ad to campaign against this bond measure.
Those thoughts prompted me to do some research. And some serious thinking. Election laws require that paid political advertisements must include the name and address of the person or organization that paid for the ad. So if I decide to do a mailing, my name and address has to appear on that mailing. Same if I decide to place a display ad in the local weekly paper. Also, if I spend more than $500 in one month, which I might do, I need to file a report with the Public Disclosure Commission in Washington state.
The money is not a serious issue. I do not mind spending the equivalent of one year’s property tax increase in order to help defeat a 30-year tax increase. That seems like a reasonable investment. Or gamble. Depending on how you want to look at it.
On the other hand, and despite the fact that I blog and post photos publicly, I value my privacy quite a bit. I am not very comfortable with the idea of publishing my opinion, along with my name and address. Nor do I like the idea of filing papers with the state that makes it a matter of public record that I am a “grass roots lobbyist”. That whole public disclosure thing makes me nervous because I don’t know what else might happen because of it.
On yet another hand, I understand with and agree with the public disclosure laws. If anything, I think there should be more public disclosure of names, rather than anonymous Super-PACs. I don’t like that our politicians and statewide ballot measures are bought and paid for by the super-PAC that has the most money. Consequently, I am a firm supporter of grass roots movements, but as a follower, not a leader. In many ways, public disclosure the modern equivalent of someone standing on a soapbox in the town plaza to tell others what he thinks, as was done long ago. Such a person would not stand on that soapbox with a bag over their head to hide their identity. So why should someone today be able to have their say while hiding their identity. Free speech is not anonymous speech.
There is so much voter apathy in this country. Too many people don’t bother to vote because they think their vote won’t matter. Too many people make up their minds how to vote, based on whose ad they happen to remember while blacking in the boxes on the ballet. People need to cast their votes. More than that, they need to understand what and who they are voting for or against.
That said, from a privacy standpoint, I would prefer to remain silent and anonymous, cast my vote, and hope for the best. From a moral standpoint, how can I not stand up and make my voice heard on an issue I feel strongly about? There does not appear to be any middle ground, at least none that I can see.
The voter’s guide will not include arguments for and against something so small as a local school bond measure. It appears that no one else is going to stand up and be heard about this issue, on either side. To borrow a couple of rhetorical questions and make them my own: If not me, who? If not now, when?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The issues I raise and the questions I ask in this blog cannot be new or unique. People who have made a stand, or chosen not to, have surely asked themselves these or similar questions first.
I would like to invite comments, observations, and opinions from any who read this. Forget the details of my little local ballot measure issue. Instead, think about any issue. If you have strong feelings about something that will appear on your local ballot and nobody else is saying anything, what would you do? Anything? Nothing? Would you put your name and address on your opinion and make it all public? Or would you keep your head down, cast your vote, and hope for the best? Or would you find yet a third alternative? What would you do?