2012 Los Angeles County, CAJanuary 10, 2013
After the narrow and disappointing loss of Measure J, CFTE reached out to the coalition behind the campaign to ask for insight into what went wrong and what went right. Move LA Director of Policy and Communications, Gloria Ohland, provided a candid take on situation.
What early steps were undertaken to gauge voter support and create a messaging strategy for the campaign?
There was extensive polling countywide — with a sufficient sample to ensure we were within a 3% margin of error — and three sets of focus groups to test messaging. There was also a lot of formal and informal dialogue with stakeholders around the county, much of it with subregional councils of governments (there are eight in LA County) and with constituency leaders.
What campaign strategy or tactic was most successful?
TV, definitely. Los Angeles County has more than 3 million voters and there is no other way than TV to reach that many people. Unfortunately, this is very expensive. If we had had the time we could have also raised money for subregional cable TV ads, for radio, and for targeted direct mail, but Governor Brown did not sign the bill authorizing Measure J until the very last moment, on September 30, which constrained our fundraising efforts probably by 20 percent. We also purchased positions on slate mailers — there are about a dozen in LA County and we had spots on all but one.
Do you believe the “jobs, jobs, jobs” message was effective for this campaign? Would you change anything about messaging if you could run the campaign again?
It was a two-part message: jobs and traffic relief. It was the right message, as indicated by the 66% vote, which is really a landslide — it’s just not the two-thirds majority that was required.
How did the campaign model its budget and approach fundraising? Any specific tactics prove to be more successful than others?
We had the experience of Measure R to inform us, and we had a very experienced consulting team doing the fundraising and media. Our total budget on the low end was to raise $2.2 million and on the high end to raise $3.7 million, with about 75 percent of that going for media buys, and we raised about $3.2 million. We targeted three groups for fundraising — labor, the transportation industry including engineering firms, and civic and business leaders. We targeted donors who could give $25,000 or more, and these asks were to be made by political figures including LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, LA Metro Board Member (and former California Assembly Transportation Committee Chair) Richard Katz, and state Assemblyman Michael Feuer, who authored the legislation empowering Measure J and, previously, Measure R. But there was a legal opinion that Metro board members could not ask for contributions from any contractors or others who might do business with Metro. This meant that these asks had to be done by Assemblyman Feuer and Move LA Executive Director Denny Zane.
What civic leaders, businesses or organizations had the biggest impact on garnering more than 65% voter support?
Because big media buys were a significant campaign strategy, people and organizations who were able to help us raise money were important. Major fundraisers included Museum Associates, the nonprofit organization that runs the LA County Museum of Art, businessman/philanthropist Eli Broad, the LA Dodgers, AEG (Anschutz Entertainment Group), Laborers International Union of North America. Financial supporters were more or less evenly split among the aforementioned three groups: civic leaders, businesses and large employers; labor; and the transportation industry.
Who were the opponents of Measure J and what impact did they have?
Early opponents were conservative Republican LA County supervisors Michael Antonovich, who represents north LA County, and Don Knabe, who represents much of the South Bay — both subregions where Measure J did less well. Opponents also included communities that opposed some Measure J projects: Beverly Hills opposed the subway, and communities in the San Gabriel Valley opposed an extension of the 710 freeway (Measure J would have funded some 710 corridor improvements). Measure J lost votes in Beverly Hills but there was little impact in the San Gabriel Valley. The Bus Riders Union also opposed Measure J, but while they did get media attention their impact seemed minimal, as Measure J did very well — sometimes getting more than 70% of the vote — in almost all the middle-class and working-class communities where the Bus Riders Unions would have had the most influence.
What social media or tech tools were used to reach voters? What strategies got the biggest response?
Because the governor didn’t sign the bill authorizing Measure J until Sept. 30 the campaign started very late. The website wasn’t even up until about a month before the election, and this also made it difficult to build an audience on Facebook and twitter. Again, because of the size of the voter population in LA County, money and effort was focused on big high-profile media buys on TV.
What was the biggest difference between the campaigns for Measure R and Measure J?
Measure R won! The Measure R campaign got off the ground earlier. There was less “background noise” about taxes from Republicans, including presidential candidate Mitt Romney, which may have caused support to erode in affluent communities. There was also a lot of media about the governor’s tax hike, Proposition 30, in this election. Voter turnout was 10% lower, and new Metro Board Chairman Antonovich did not want LA Metro to send out any mailings that explained the measure to voters — as Metro had done with Measure R.
Both Measure R and Measure J were on the ballot in presidential election years. How did this impact GOTV strategy and the turnout of key constituencies?
President Obama brought out the vote both times, though the turnout for Measure J in this last election was 10% lower. Prop 30, the governor’s tax measure, and Prop 32, which would have prohibited unions from using payroll deductions for political purposes, also helped ensure that people would come out to vote in this last election.
Why do you think Measure J came up just short of victory in this campaign?
The real issue is the high threshold of two-thirds of the voters, which is a real problem, especially when 30% of voters regularly say “no” to ballot measures. The most significant adverse factor was that the vote declined in affluent communities, probably because of Proposition 30, the statewide tax, and because of the debate over taxes in the presidential campaign.
What would you change about the campaign if you could do it over?
It should have gotten off the ground sooner, though this was impossible for a variety of reasons, which would have enabled us to raise more money for targeted subregional messages through cable and direct mail. When you have to get a two-thirds majority even small things can mean the difference between defeat and victory.
What’s the most important lesson for the rest of the country from your experience in LA with Measure J?
That there is strong support among the electorate for broad-based local taxes to build local transportation projects — the 66% vote shows very strong support. We believe voters throughout the county still support smart infrastructure investment, and that California’s two-thirds voter approval requirement is an unreasonable threshold that thwarts the public will, and that this is a problem that needs to be addressed. However, a combination of thoughtful polling, aggressive fundraising and smart media should bring in a majority of voters in non-California cities and regions clogged with traffic.
What are next steps for Move LA and the coalition built up during the campaign? Is there another ballot measure in the near future?
We are working on accelerating Measure R projects via other means. We are encouraging Congress to reconsider the QTIB (Qualified Transportation Investment Bonds) program that has been renamed America Fast Forward Bonds, the national infrastructure bank, and possibly more robust funding for California’s state infrastructure bank and perhaps even a state version of QTIBs. We are also already at work to build a campaign to reduce the voter threshold for sales taxes for transportation to 55%. Two constitutional amendments have already been introduced — one in the California Assembly and another in the Senate. If approved this threshold could be effective immediately, meaning that any other measure on the ballot — such as a transportation sales tax — would win by 55%. We believe we will get the help of the governor, who has political momentum with the victory of Proposition 30 and because Democrats won a two-thirds majority in both the Assembly and Senate. The idea of reducing the voter threshold already has the support of non-Democratic constituencies, including Mobility 21, a coalition of seven county transportation commissions and six chambers of commerce as well as other business alliances including the American Automobile Association.