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Thursday, July 14, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Joni Balter

The Son Of 608? Please Spare US

When backers of two anti-gay-rights initiatives announced they couldn't collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, it was so refreshing it was like jumping into Puget Sound after a 10-mile run on a hot day.

Just think of everything we'll miss without Initiatives 608 and 610 on the ballot: Neighbors bad-mouthing neighbors. Workers maligning co-workers. Charges and countercharges of violence.

We'll also do without economic boycotts, outsiders suddenly thinking of Washington as a haven for intolerance and endless simplistic sound bites on the gay lifestyle.

Two weeks ago, I chastised Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper for nearly leading the gay-pride parade in uniform but not allowing his officers to wear police blues in the March for Jesus the same weekend.

At issue were images, morale and the double standard of a chief who went all out to sanction a gay-pride event that suits his politics while refusing to allow officers to participate in similar fashion at a religious event.

Most of the 135 callers to my voice-mail number offered reasoned protests to the column or something compelling to the debate.

But some, too many, distorted a discussion about proper use of uniforms and the chief parading his politics. They wanted to read it as an instant litmus test on gay rights. You know, are you with us or against us?

Life is more complicated.

"Hey, I've been reading your column for some time," said one

caller. "You're supposed to be with us. Now you're against us. WE'RE GOING TO GET YOU."

So much for civilized discussion. If more people had signed the initiatives, we'd have months of this vicious yowling.

Fortunately, Washington voters were smart - or blase - enough to say "No, thanks. We have better things to do."

Anti-gay-rights efforts fizzled in seven other states this year, but made it on the ballot in Oregon and Idaho.

Initiative backers in Washington cited fledgling campaigns and voter apathy to explain their inability to gather enough signatures.

How about initiative burnout?

Thirty-three initiatives were launched in Washington this year, one shy of the record. Thirty-two failed to gain enough signatures.

"These things come in waves," said David Brine, spokesman for the Secretary of State's office. "Waves peak during difficult financial times. There's a certain amount of fatigue. People have some sense we've been through a lot of these issues."

The measure that did get on the ballot - a thriller that allows denture makers to work independently of dentists - made it partly because solicitors were paid to gather signatures.

One initiative that died was state Sen. Linda Smith's "Cut Waste, Fight Crime" - a 28-page hodgepodge of everything Smith couldn't accomplish in Olympia.

Smith's "60-day legislative session in one package" as one critic dubbed it, cheapened our cherished grassroots initiative process. We may not like what lawmakers did or didn't do, but we consider initiatives a privilege. We want lawmakers to make most laws, not voters.

Backers of gay-rights limitation measures say they will be back. "It is not a question of if, but when," said Doug Burman of the Washington Public Affairs Council, which supported 608. "We expect something in November 1995."

With all due respect, spare us. Joni Balter's column appears Sunday and Thursdays in the Local News section of The Times. Her voice-mail number is 464-3279.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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