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Eyman Relishes Role of Pitchman

December 13, 1999

SEATTLE (AP) _ Tim Eyman, pitchman and seat-of-the-pants strategist for Washington state’s tax revolt, was first drawn into populist politics by Texas maverick Ross Perot and his sock-’em-in-the-nose rhetoric.

Inspired by Perot’s legacy to empower armies of ``little people″ to take back their government, Eyman crafted Initiative 695. It allowed the little guy, he says, to pull an end run around a political establishment that listens mostly to ``Big Business, Big Labor and Big Media.″

By passing it last month, voters grabbed themselves a $750 million annual car-tax break and veto power over all future state and local tax increases. Next fall, Eyman plans to offer ``Son of 695″ to roll back some other tax increases and to cap the growth of property taxes.

``If you thought Initiative 695 was a ‘bad boy,’ wait until you see Son of 695,″ Eyman says with a chortle.

The success of I-695 follows another Eyman-sponsored success: an anti-affirmative action initiative last year that banned use of gender or race in college admissions or government hiring and contracting.

Never has David so enjoyed doing battle with Goliath.

Eyman, who turns age 34 this month and describes himself as ``an independent Republican, with a little Ralph Nader thrown in,″ has become a major player in state politics, though he’s never served a day in public office and swears he’ll never get the bug.

He calls himself ``the Great Plagiarizer,″ lifting ideas from California, Oregon, Colorado and elsewhere.

To fans of the initiative process, which is popular throughout the West, this high-octane outsider is a genuine folk hero, possessed of a glib tongue and marketer’s skill at spinning a clear, compelling, simple message.

To foes, he’s dangerous, stirring up angst when times are prosperous, without regard for potential damage to highways, transit, police, fire, ferries and other state and local programs.

``He obviously is replacing all the city councils and county councils and the state Legislature,″ says House Appropriations Co-Chairman Tom Huff, R-Gig Harbor. ``It sounds like he’s a one-man rule.″

Donald Thompson, 75, a retired mechanic for the city of Port Angeles, says Eyman is a hero because he gives voice to the average person and puts politicians in their place.

``As an individual, the taxpayer has no power at all. You might as well keep your mouth shut; they just laugh you off. You have to band together (on initiatives),″ he says.

In a way, Eyman is an odd frontman for what he calls a peasants’ revolt. He has a business degree from Washington State University and is relatively wealthy.

He and his wife, Karen, and their toddler, Jackson, live in an elegant $430,000 house on a golf course in the hills above Puget Sound north of here. The couple manage a lucrative home business, selling logo wrist watches by mail to parents of fraternity and sorority members.

But Eyman, who wrestled in college and identifies with wrestler-turned-reformer, Jesse ``The Body″ Ventura, says he instinctively sides with the ``little guy″ in trying to get government off his back. A citizen initiative is just the pitchfork to get politicians’ attention and force through changes the establishment is unwilling to make, he says.

Politicians are too cautious and ``just nibble around the edges of change,″ he says. ``It’s like, God, don’t you want to dive into the meaty stuff? The stuff that just hits you in the gut?″

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