Small turnout for debate on citizen measures

ELMA — About a dozen people gathered at Elma High School Monday evening to listen to a panel of speakers debate three voter initiatives and a referendum set to appear on this year’s ballot.

The meeting, organized by the League of Women Voters for Grays Harbor, gave attendees the opportunity to hear positions on the issues clarified by informed supporters and detractors on each issue.

The four measures debated were Initiative 1185, Initiative 1240, Referendum 74 and Initiative 502.

Initiative 1185 would require a two-thirds majority to pass a tax increase. Initiative 1240 would allow the establishment of 40 public charter schools. Referendum 74 asks if same sex marriage should be allowed in the state and Initiative 502 would legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The first issue tackled was Initiative 502. Tonia Winchester, outreach director for Yes on I-502, spoke in favor of the initiative saying the “war on drugs” instituted decades ago has been largely a failure in terms of marijuana use.

“It’s time to end the war on drugs and it’s time to put the money to better use,” Winchester said.

She told the audience that the bill makes it legal for individuals to possess one ounce of marijuana for personal use, and would lead to a boon for the state budget from taxes on the marijuana.

Anthony Martinelli of Sensible Washington, a pro-cannabis legalization group, spoke against the measure. He called the government’s approach to controlling drug use “a failed archaic policy.” Sensible Washington is against the initiative, he said, because it falls short of true legalization. Under the initiative, marijuana remains a Class One narcotic in state law. He also disputed that any money would be gained by taxing the sale of the drug, because the complications of enacting the initiative, which would conflict with federal law and put the state in the position of regulating the sale of of a Class One narcotic, make the underpinnings of the whole law shaky.

The next issue the panel discussed was Initiative 1240, the creation of 40 charter schools in Washington. David Fisher, of Fisher Jurkovich Public Affairs, said that roughly 14,000 students drop out of high school in Washington state every year. He characterized charter schools as a way to stem the tide of dropouts by being flexible with curriculum and teaching methods. Ben Lawver, with People for Our Public Schools, said charter schools are an unproven approach to fixing public education with only 17 percent matching or outperforming public schools and 48 percent failing to meet public standards.

“It takes money away from our schools to send some students into a magic charter (school),” he said.

Scott Douglas from Washington United For Marriage spoke in favor of Referendum 74. He told a story about his marriage to his partner, that was sullied in some way, by a legal decision handed down 10 days before his ceremony that made his marriage not legal in the state. “That’s the only thing this initiative would do, validate loving couples.”

DiAnna Brannan, from Preserve Marriage Washington, said gay marriage creates a “genderless institution” that ignores the needs of children. She also added that allowing gay marriage doesn’t provide any legal protections that domestic partnership laws don’t already provide.

The last issue was Initiative 1185. Amber Carter with the Association of Washington Business spoke in favor of the initiative and said it was a way to reign in out of control spending. She said government spending makes the current business climate difficult. State Representative Sam Hunt, oppose the measure and called it an effort of special interests.

“Our state and our constitution is based on majority rule,” the proposal turns government “over to a small minority.”