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May 25, 2022

Money, endorsements far from winning ’em all’

In the world of initiative politics, money and endorsements from
major political figures have steadily become vital commodities.
Nevertheless, this ultimately populist form of lawmaking retains
some of its original character: Money and endorsements don’t always
win, especially when they are behind bad ideas.
In the world of initiative politics, money and endorsements from major political figures have steadily become vital commodities. Nevertheless, this ultimately populist form of lawmaking retains some of its original character: Money and endorsements don’t always win, especially when they are behind bad ideas.

The same, of course, is true in ordinary electoral politics, where big–name endorsements can’t help lackluster candidates. This fall’s best example: Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Jones got nowhere while campaigning repeatedly with ex–Mayor Rudy Giuiliani of New York. “Endorsements can only help if they help the candidate get his issues out. But they will never be the decisive factor,” said Jones campaign chief Sean Walsh.

Giuiliani didn’t help Jones, just as he did little for 2002 Republican candidate Bill Simon, defeated for governor by the unpopular Democrat Gray Davis.

Only one powerful–seeming endorsement – that of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger – made much difference this fall, while big money didn’t matter all that much. Yes, some big–money propositions before California voters passed. But some did not, and it was impossible to use a simple monetary gauge to predict which would win and which would lose.

While trying to forecast the outcome of initiative campaigns, it’s always wise to remember that most will lose. Since the modern initiative movement began in the early 1970s, fueled by court decisions that opened shopping centers to petition carriers, more than 83 percent of all initiatives qualifying for statewide votes have lost.

Money helps – it certainly was the prime reason why many measures on the ballot got there. But if an idea is really bad, not even a massively expensive advertising will usually save it.

Money was the prime reason for passage of Proposition 64, the Chamber of Commerce plan to eviscerate California’s unfair business practices laws. And Schwarzenegger’s vocal backing also helped.

While the chamber and a host of companies that have been hit by product liability and unfair competition lawsuits – including the likes of Microsoft, McDonald’s and Nike – pumped more than $10 million into the campaign for this measure, opponents had less than one–tenth the money to spend. Yet, Proposition 64 nearly lost – in part because of its title, “Limitations on Enforcement of Unfair Business Competition Laws.” How many voters want to see less enforcement of laws on unfair business practices, when the majority of them are also consumers who have been around long enough to have had at least one faulty product foisted onto them? Yet the measure passed handily, because of the monetary difference and Schwarzenegger’s presence in the yes side’s ads.

But Proposition 70, a brazen attempt by casino Indian tribes to win the right to install virtually unlimited numbers of slot machines while paying very little to the state in exchange for large new profits, was a big loser despite the more than $20 million spent on it by the tribes.

Again Schwarzenegger was on the winning side, proving he can convert his popularity into votes. But Proposition 70’s defeat probably was due more to public concern over the massive and fast–developing expansion of casino gambling.

Voters may also have been confused by the speed of gaming developments in the months prior to the election. During that time, Schwarzenegger negotiated slot–expansion deals with several casino–owning tribes, who agreed to give the state a prescribed percentage of their profits. Furious that tribes led by the Agua Calientes of the Palm Springs area and the San Manuels of the San Bernardino vicinity refused to play ball with him, Schwarzenegger vowed to kill their proposal for almost unlimited expansion. Yes, he played a role in its defeat, but how much he mattered is pure conjecture.

Again, the very name of the proposition might have had an effect. This one was titled “Tribal Gaming Compacts. Exclusive Gaming Rights.” Reading this, any voter would know that a yes vote meant some tribes would get a lock on their territories for a long time, and many voters apparently did not like the idea of granting such favored franchises.

Schwarzenegger’s work also vastly increased the vote against Proposition 66, which appeared ready for a landslide win before he got involved. But even Schwarzenegger getting active didn’t mean automatic victory for his side. He backed the open primaries called for in Proposition 62, and lost. And he had almost no success in ousting the legislators he targeted.

So the bottom line this fall was that several causes and candidates with big bucks and/or big sponsors lost, to the surprise of many who don’t believe voters are capable of seeing past the flim–flam men (and women) always drawn to politics.

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