Sunday Commentary: Why Measure I Passed

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Sacramento-River-stockDuring the last month of the campaign, we believed that the Measure I campaign was in trouble.  They were getting pounded in the press.  In the last month of the campaign, Davis Enterprise columnist Bob Dunning ran negative column after negative column, attacking the fairness of the rate structure, attacking the proportionality of the rates, attacking the city for not paying for their water, on and on.

The public seemed confused and it seemed the confusion would lead to no votes and no votes would lead to the defeat of the measure.  Adding to that, the city and the Measure I campaign itself were slow to respond to these attacks, or to clarify the rate structure and other issues to the public.

We turned out to be wrong, and the reason we turned out to be wrong is the number of people who had already voted.  This was the big unknown.  Everyone sensed the tide had changed, but no one knew just how big a lead Measure I had built up.

Indeed, there were already 10,000 ballots received by midday on Friday before the election.  Just under 15,000 people voted in total, so more than two-thirds of those who would vote had already voted by that time.

The margin shrank slightly with the ballots that were received on election day and at the library, which means that the No side actually prevailed on those who voted on election day.

Michael Harrington noted to the Vanguard that a number of people who had voted early, and voted yes, had come to lament their decision and would have voted no had they voted later or had an opportunity to change their vote.  Bob Dunning similarly ran a column a few weeks earlier, suggesting much of the same.

Mr. Harrington used this fact to argue against the all-mail ballot as people have a full month to vote.  When it was noted that there was a tremendous cost savings to the city by going all-mail, he argued that this was an issue of democratic integrity and suggested that this would be the last such vote.

A more neutral observer noted to the Vanguard that in their neighborhood there were a lot of potential no votes, but that the No on Measure I campaign was late organizing and had planned a strategy that was more attuned with the more traditional election.

A look at the chain of events largely bears this out.

It was just before the ballots had been mailed out that the opposition filed the lawsuit against Prop 218.  That seemed to mark a critical turning point in the campaign.  One might note that the lawsuit came out prior to people beginning to vote, but the critical chain of events took several weeks to play out and relied upon a slew of negative columns by Bob Dunning to sow discontent.

The Vanguard would later be sent a full array of literature that was mailed and dropped with voters by the No on Measure I campaign.  The problem is that the campaign should have been conducted in January, not February.

If Measure I lost the public relations war, they won the mobilization war.  Their campaign was very simple – they used their resources and organization to identify several thousand committed Yes on Measure I voters in January, and then used the month of February to ensure that they indeed voted.  People were hounded repeatedly, but the strategy paid dividends.

Campaign Manager Will Arnold told the Vanguard prior to the election they had identified several thousand supporters.  He also noted that there was no information that he had that Measure I would lose.

This was based not only on the much-questioned initial poll that showed a massive 63-11 lead, but also on the follow-up robocall poll with results that were never publicly released, and their internal identifications.

The number that consistently came out of the campaign was about 60-40 from various people.  We believed it would be far closer than that, and it ended up 54-46 essentially.

The No on Measure I campaign would likely contend that the difference in the race was the amount of money spent, about a 3 to 1 advantage for the Yes side.  And while the Yes on Measure I campaign was able to run a slew of TV ads and some slick mailers, we are not sure how big an advantage that was.

Moreover, the monetary advantage did not take into account the impact of Bob Dunning’s five-days-a-week barrage of negative attack columns, questioning the rates and the competence of council and staff.  It is hard to imagine any amount of spending could offset that barrage, that reached at least 9000 households at least 18 times in the last month.

But, despite this, Measure I was able to prevail and prevail by about 8 percentage points – not a landslide but a comfortable margin that was never in doubt once results came in.

The key in our view is that Measure I was able to identify critical voters and get them to the polls.  In a 1200 vote margin, if they were able to even get 2000 of their identified voters out to vote, that might have been decisive.

The No on Measure I side relied on a traditional grassroots campaign and, if this had been a traditional election where most people vote on election day, they may have prevailed.

But the campaign really got organized too late.  By the time momentum swung clearly in favor of the No on Measure I side, people were already voting.

The Clean Water for Davis campaign, while not the mobile and responsive unit that they may have wanted to be, nevertheless was able to out-social media the No on Measure I side.  Their Facebook page had 724 likes, sharing critical articles and acting to mobilize supporters.

The No on Measure I side relied on more traditional means, including email lists.

Contrary to the belief of Michael Harrington, more campaigns in the future will utilize the all-mail format, and the Yes on Measure I side was better equipped to deal with that format, better able to identify key supporters and then get them to the polls effectively.

In many ways, the Yes on Measure I campaign was the local equivalent in campaign strategy to the Obama campaign, whereas the No on Measure I side was closer to the Mitt Romney campaign.

We honestly believe that one does not need a lot of money to prevail in Davis if they can utilize grassroots efforts, social media, the newspapers and websites like the Vanguard.  The flaw in the No on Measure I side is that they only took advantage of some of these less costly means, and they did so about a month late.

Superior organization allowed the Yes on Measure I side to overcome some critical flaws.  First, they never had an effective strategy to deal with the drumbeat of negative attacks.  We do not believe the strategy of ignoring the attacks and running the 30,000 foot campaign was a good one.  They survived it because of superior organization and the late start the anti-Measure I forces had.

Second, the city was very slow to respond to critical information.  When the lawsuit was filed, it took several days to address the issue of proportionality and it took eight days to address the issue of the non-payment.  When the city did respond, it was muddled and sounded a lot like prevarication.

Third, the city got trapped in email communications with Bob Dunning and Jerry Hallee and those communications were taken out of context and used against them.  We will have a full showing on this in the coming days.

Fourth, the city never had a quick and pithy explanation for CBFR.  Their complaints about fairness and complexity that we do not believe were accurate, were never fully addressed.

In the end, the earlier start and superior organization allowed the Measure I campaign to overcome these problems and prevail.

In the days since the election, the No on Measure I side has been quiet.  They still have not served the city with the lawsuit – they have sixty days from January 31 when the suit was filed, to do so.  The Prop. 218 challenge likely goes nowhere, although they may have the advantage of time, but without concerted effort, there seems little likelihood of success there.

Finally, they have suggested a new initiative – whether this goes forward or not remains to be seen.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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33 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: Why Measure I Passed”

  1. Robb Davis

    David you wrote:

    [quote]The No on Measure I side relied on a traditional grassroots campaign and if this had been a traditional election where most people vote on Election Day, they may have prevailed.[/quote]

    This would imply a level of “regret” by those who voted early that seems improbable. A simpler explanation is that the first poll showing the 63-11 was actually pretty close to what happened. This poll indicated a large number of undecided voters. The margin of error placed the result well within the final result in terms of “yes” votes (I can’t recall but the margin of error was at least 5% which means a 58% Yes was possible–not far from the actual result). The decided “Yes” voters voted early. The decided “No” voters also voted early. The large number of undecided voters (perhaps 25% or more based on the original poll) were undecided until the end. A majority of such voters ended up voting No it would appear.

    The negative ads, etc. convinced most undecided voters to vote “No”. In that sense the “No” campaign succeeded. However, a majority of Davis residents had already decided–based on years of information and study–that the time for this project is now.

  2. Matt Williams

    David, there is one additional aspect of your analysis of the all-mail ballot impact that would be worth pursuing.

    Specifically, the number of voters in a traditional election who sign up for permanent absentee status has grown over the recent years. That number will almost surely continue to grow as voters get more experience with mail voting.

    Can you find out from the Yolo Elections Office what the early voting and mail voting trends are in the past ten elections?

    I also suspect that voters who voluntarily make the transition to mail ballots (by signing up for permanent absentee status) probably fall into the “more likely to vote” category. So looking at voter turnout in the mail voting ranks might be illuminating as well.

  3. David M. Greenwald

    “This would imply a level of “regret” by those who voted early that seems improbable.”

    I’m not trying to make the regret argument there, but rather that the No on Measure I side did not maximize their vote because they failed to organize in time to reach key constituencies.

  4. Ryan Kelly

    I think you are right, David, in saying that the No campaign ran a traditional camaign (Farmers Market, door to door knocking, emails and ads in the Enterprise, etc. However, this wouldn’t reach many Davisites. No one knocked on my door, I avoided the Farmers Market, and apparently I am not on the email list. I received one phone call from the Yes campaign and a few pieces of mail very late from both campaigns. The biggest No information was from the Vangard , where every article was dominated by Mike Harrington’s posts. I also read the Enterprise, including Dunning’s columns, but once again Mike’s posts about corruption and fraud, and focus on stopping development pretty much drowned out any other message for me.

    In the end I went with people I respect and the idea of building something that was sustainable and disregarded the No campaign of fear and distrust.

  5. JustSaying

    “Michael Harrington noted to the Vanguard that a number of people who had voted early, and voted yes, had come to lament their decision and would have voted no had they voted later or had an opportunity to change their vote. Bob Dunning similarly ran a column a few weeks earlier, suggesting much of the same.”

    Please. Let’s see, why did we lose? Oh, yeah, people were given a bunch of free stuff. Let’s get some serious post mortem, rather than excuses.

  6. DT Businessman

    David, the Harrington campaign has been waged over almost a 20-month period and is still ongoing. What you are essentially arguing is his campaign is badly disorganized and would have been blown out of the water were it not for Dunning (and the Vanguard?).

    -Michael Bisch

  7. hpierce

    This thread is “disturbing”… it appears many think the vote was a “game”, and it was decided solely on the rhetoric, and persuasion of what amounted to “sound bites”. Very scary. I came to my conclusion based on facts, using my judgement derived from many years learning about the elements of the water delivery system. I discounted any arguments that had no factual backup. If, indeed, the outcome was based on tactics/strategies, I’d prefer going from democracy to a technocracy.

  8. DT Businessman

    hpierce, hello?! There are any number of posters these past months who have bemoaned the fact that instead of having a reasoned debate on the project merits, what we have witnessed was a 20-month long political campaign. Is that really how we wish to determine and solve our vital infrastructure and services needs? Worse yet, there’s no reasonable expectation that this sorry state of affairs will end anytime soon.

    -Michael Bisch

  9. Don Shor

    It’s interesting how all these postmortems focus on tactics, strategy, funding — always the focus of political operatives and people with a strong interest in politics. Instead, you might look at the substance.
    Measure I won on the facts. The opponents never had a coherent argument against the surface water project. They tried everything else: emotion, fear, disparaging opponents and experts, and trying to play up old growth arguments. That didn’t work. And in my opinion, the leading opponents of Measure I are now toxic in Davis politics.

  10. DT Businessman

    Don, these things that the opponents tried in lieu of a coherent argument, is that the end of these ends-justify-the-means tactics? Or will they simply shift them to the next contentious community challenge?

    -Michael Bisch

  11. David M. Greenwald

    “it appears many think the vote was a “game”,”

    I’m not sure why covering a campaign from the perspective of campaign strategies is “disturbing”

  12. David M. Greenwald

    “It’s interesting how all these postmortems focus on tactics, strategy, funding — always the focus of political operatives and people with a strong interest in politics. Instead, you might look at the substance.”

    That’s what I chose to look at, I think we have discussed the issues of substance to death. But frankly, I think this could have gone either way which is something that we ought to at least bear in mind.

  13. hpierce

    Ok… tactics, then… the No on I proponents did an excellent job of throwing a lot of male bovine manure into the game, then urged folks to vote “no” if they were confused… brilliant tactics… not successful… this time… I fear the next.

  14. hpierce

    BTW Don, is there any fertilizer difference between “steer manure”, or female or un-castrated male bovine manure? I’ve seen the first on the market, but not the latter two.

  15. Matt Williams

    When comparing the two campaign tactics, one area where No On I absolutely kicked Yes On I’s tail was in the Letters to the Editor in the Enterprise. They were clearly more organized and more diligent about getting their message in print for the 9,000 Enterprise subscribers to see. Pam Nieberg was both diligent and effective in extending that coverage by forwarding electronic copies of every No On I letter and OpEd to all the people in her e-mail distribution list.

    Because so much of the No On I campaign message was visceral, it is not a surprise that they had more committed letter writers, but regardless of the reason, that was an area of the campaign where the Yes On I team was out gunned.

  16. hpierce

    [quote]Because so much of the No On I campaign message was visceral, it is not a surprise that they had more committed letter writers, but regardless of the reason, that was an area of the campaign where the Yes On I team was out gunned. [/quote]You’re making my point, Matt… emotions rather than facts.

  17. Don Shor

    [i]”…un-castrated male bovine manure?”[/i]
    I would not want the job of collecting bull manure. In terms of nitrogen content, I’m guessing it’s all pretty much the same. But I’m definitely saving ‘un-castrated male bovine manure’ as a metaphor to use in the next campaign.

  18. hpierce

    Flashed on a memory from childhood… LBJ vs. Goldwater… Goldwater’s slogan: “In your heart, you know he’s right”… the response: “In your guts you know he’s nuts”.

  19. hpierce

    Also, the 1964 campaign was really nasty… some of the TV ads portrayed Goldwater as laughing with a backdrop of nuclear bombs going off… sick. Wonder if others in recent campaigns have tried to draw from that “play-book”.

  20. davehart

    This is elections campaign 101. Fear is the best tool to stop something. Case in point is a clear issue like cigarette tax increases. Starts out 60-40 in support then fails 49-51 after not only 10 or 20 times the expenditure to kill it, but also in response to how the tax is “unfair”, “will be mis-used by the politicians”, and so on. Doubt, fear and anxiety are the best tools to persuade people not to do something. Measure I passed because most people recognize inaction on our water supply is foolish and stupid.

    It does NOT mean that the City Council has carte blanche to ignore how the project is implemented. The NO campaign did the city the favor of challenging how the city does business. If the city and our elected leaders are smart, they will follow up on those questions raised by the NO campaign. For starters and just off the top of my head:

    1. Why doesn’t the city “pay” for the water it uses or at least account for its use on a per square foot or per acre basis? Maybe we would see less watering of the streets around city turf.
    2. Do a better job of explaining the very good and sound CBFR structure so that people are not just okay with it, but become true supporters of its equity.
    3. Really dig into the operate part of the DBO model and help us to understand why we would save money by privatizing the operation of our project. And, if they can’t, reconsider or change course.
    4. Lay out “worst case” scenarios where there might be a problem of governance or disagreement with Woodland on project implementation how such disagreements will be resolved.

  21. Mr.Toad

    Where to start. Your analysis is so poor, honestly!

    First last November something like half the votes were cast before election day. Mail in ballots are now the norm. Everyone in politics knows this is how it works now so claiming a single day election would have a different outcome is silly.

    You can actually change your vote if you vote early and change your mind just contact the elections office and they will walk you through it.

    Most ballot issues trend down in the polls over time if they include taxes. Claiming its going to cost you money is one of the best ways to defeat anything so it should be no surprise that early polling showed a bigger lead than the final tally. Late voters often break against ballot measures that cost money.

    Harrington talked about people not blogging because they were out getting votes they just didn’t get enough.

    Local elections are always low turnout. If they wanted a bigger turnout they should have argued for a November 2012 vote.

    The no on I people petitioned for an election and then fought to have it not be in the General last November when there would have been a higher turnout.

    Yes on I had more money but didn’t file lawsuits. Maybe that lawsuit money could have been better spent on getting out the no vote.

    Finally this entire screed doesn’t mention the deciding thing for me, WATER QUALITY, that is what I voted to get and that was, I believe, what was first and foremost in a majority of voters minds when they cast their ballots.

  22. hpierce

    Davehart & Mr.Toad both have some very good points… to elaborate:

    [quote]1. Why doesn’t the city “pay” for the water it uses or at least account for its use on a per square foot or per acre basis? Maybe we would see less watering of the streets around city turf. [/quote]The City should account for its water use (as should DJUSD). The result would be that the City would have more money coming out of its GF, those ‘customers’ in El Macero & “old” Willowbank would pay less, but they still benefit from the City parks and greenbelts that they use, so perhaps the City should impose user fees on those outside the City for the use of City-irrigated parks and greenbelts… they certainly are NOT contributing to the GF, although they contribute to DJUSD funds.

    I concede that davehart’s issues are worthy of discussion, as long as he lives within the City.

    [quote]First last November something like half the votes were cast before election day. Mail in ballots are now the norm. Everyone in politics knows this is how it works now so claiming a single day election would have a different outcome is silly. [/quote]Agreed… as I understand it, Oregon has gone to all mail ballots. I am a VBM person, but I often don’t drop it off until election day. This time, there was no need to defer. I knew enough facts.

    [quote]The no on I people petitioned for an election and then fought to have it not be in the General last November when there would have been a higher turnout. [/quote]Yes, and I fully expect the No on I’ers, will challenge the results because the vote was done the way it was.

    [quote]Local elections are always low turnout. If they wanted a bigger turnout they should have argued for a November 2012 vote. [/quote]Gotta watch out for this… because we are a ‘university town’ with high turnover of students, UCD staff, etc., there are many folks on the ‘voter’s rolls’, that have long ago moved on. To vote you have to register. You have no obligation to remove yourself from registration when you move on. As a poll-worker, I estimate that ~ 5-10% of registered voters in Davis have ‘moved on’ [based on precincts I’ve served on, including high and low rental areas].

  23. Frankly

    One thing interesting about this election, the debate did not seem to be divided ideologically. Both liberals and conservatives joined in opposition as well as in support. I see that as positive and hopeful at a time when almost every election seems to be sharply divided along ideological lines.

    Another interesting of my observations was the high percentage of people I talked to that had a strong opinion early on. I do not know a single person that was persuaded to change his/her mind as the No and Yes campaigns churned and more information came out. It seems that many people dug in their heels once they formed an opinion.

  24. Matt Williams

    hpierce said . . .

    [i]”You’re making my point, Matt… emotions rather than facts.”[/i]

    Glad to help in any way I can Hortense. 8>)

    As anyone who posts here regularly knows, I’m oriented toward facts myself; however, anyone who discounts feelings in an electoral process is doing so at their own peril. In the decison-making process, feelings are absolutely just as powerful drivers as facts. As part of the Critical Thinking courses and Negotiations courses I have taught over the years, one of the key concepts is [i]”How to recognize the difference between [b]personal Wins[/b] and [b]business Results[/b] for both the individual decision makers and in the overall decision-making process.”[/i] It is very easy to fall into the trap of assuming that Wins and Results are one and the same, but all too often they absolutely are not.

    We saw that paradigm play out in the negotiations between Woodland and Davis in the determination of the final project cost allocations. Dan and Rochelle were IMHO very clearly oriented toward achieving business Results; however, their Woodland counterparts Bill Marble and Skip Davies each had a blend of both personal Win components and business Results components. Said another way, both Bill and Skip had the perception that they had a whole lot more to “lose” from the negotiations than their Davis counterparts had. As a result, they took a much harder line in the negotiations, and were much more emotionally committed to that harder line.

    I predict that the wastewater regionalization discussions will also have a significant personal Win component that may well overshadow the business Results.

    JMHO

  25. David M. Greenwald

    ” I do not know a single person that was persuaded to change his/her mind as the No and Yes campaigns churned and more information came out. It seems that many people dug in their heels once they formed an opinion.”

    This is the opposite of my experience, I identified a number of people who were leaners and some of them changed back and forth during the campaign which way they were leaning. A lot of these people ended up support Measure I with some reservations.

  26. Matt Williams

    hpierce said . . .

    [i]’Local elections are always low turnout. If they wanted a bigger turnout they should have argued for a November 2012 vote.’

    “Gotta watch out for this… because we are a ‘university town’ with high turnover of students, UCD staff, etc., there are many folks on the ‘voter’s rolls’, that have long ago moved on. To vote you have to register. You have no obligation to remove yourself from registration when you move on. As a poll-worker, I estimate that ~ 5-10% of registered voters in Davis have ‘moved on’ [based on precincts I’ve served on, including high and low rental areas].”[/i]

    Hortense, your comment above surprises me. Aren’t there provisions in the California Election Code that provide for automatic deletion of a registered voter from the voting rolls if they do not vote in three consecutive elections? It seems to me that there should be a provision like that. I seem to remember that both Pennsylvania and Texas have such a provision. I don’t know about Tennessee. Those are the three states that I lived in prior to California.

  27. Matt Williams

    David M. Greenwald said . . .

    [i]”This is the opposite of my experience, I identified a number of people who were leaners and some of them changed back and forth during the campaign which way they were leaning. A lot of these people ended up support Measure I with some reservations.”[/i]

    David, I don’t think your observation and Frankly’s are mutually exclusive. Your leaners would seem to fall into the category of voters who hadn’t yet made up their minds, while Frankly was talking about voters who had gone past the leaning stage.

    Another factor in your perception probably is that you yourself were a leaner throughout most of the process.

  28. Mr Obvious

    Measure I didn’t pass because one campaign was better than the other or timing. It won because a no vote was a vote to kick the can down the road until the inevitable became more expensive than it had to be.

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