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THE THINKING MAN'S GUIDE TO BALLOT INITIATIVE STRATEGY

Submitted by Chuck Gunther
v.8 May 26, 2002

(The purpose of this work is to promote ballot initiative usage and effectiveness.)

Each component that is mishandled will shift vote percentage points to the opposition. Are you willing to lose by a few points?

Any prospective initiative should be critiqued by several experienced politicians and successful initiative sponsors. Lists available.

  1. Is timing right?
    1. Economy down, taxes up, PFD decline, government scandal, Big Oil not paying fair share of taxes. Pub1ic enthusiasm in favor of hot issue?
    2. Take a poll. What percentage of voters approve of this initiative? How strong is voter commitment to this issue? (Definition of commitment: Voters which are emotionally and intellectually bound in favor of this initiative.) If voter commitment level is high, then less funding is needed.(Example if 60% polled favor this initiative and the commitment level is 90% then 60% X 90% = 54% Probable election result in favor.) Examples: the Parking Authority initiative required no money and was successful. Some initiatives have no chance of winning even with unlimited funding. Poll results can be used to obtain funding. Use a pollster that won't "leak" to the opposition -- list available.
    3. Far reaching initiatives fail. (proof available from the I&R Institute); therefore use moderation. Don't attempt to reduce taxes. Just make them grow slower, examples: the 1983 Anchorage Tax Cap and Colorado's TABOR or transfer them to others, examples: the Anchorage Car Rental Tax and Fairbanks Fuel Transfer Tax.
    4. What the voters will accept is more important than what the sponsor wants.
    5. Colorado's all-powerful TABOR anti-tax initiative was passed in 1992 when the national economy was in recession. In-the following 10 years they dropped from the 21st highest taxed state to the 47th! During "good times" voters are more accepting of high taxes, due to the "wealth effect." Therefore during "good times" we should push conservative initiatives of a "non-fiscal" nature.

  2. Is funding available up front? Funding pays for polling, signature collection, advertising, promotion, and campaign.
    1. Most funding promised will never arrive.
    2. Funding can be placed in a "performance escrow" to protect the contributor from fraud, and guarantee availability to campaign.
    3. Cash vs. Cash (balance of power analogy).

  3. Has it been attempted before? Why did it fail? Can it be done locally? 5,000 signatures plus $5,000 cash minimum. Or must it be done statewide? 28,000 signatures plus $50,000 cash minimum -- depending on voter commitment level. Avoid signature collection between Nov and Apr.

    Municipal initiatives are constitutional, they change the Constitution/Charter and are more permanent for that reason. State-wide initiatives are only statutory, they can be overturned by the legislature after only 2 years as happened with Term Limits and the Wolf Initiative.

  4. Is there powerful opposition? The Spending Lobby, Unions, Government, Media, Special Interest Groups, Do-gooders trying to prevent "folly", office seekers seeking free publicity by trashing the initiative as extreme. Are there powerful proponents to balance off the opponents?
  5. Be sure to use an "electably clean" front man or group. If a controversial front man is used the media will point out his "faults" and he will become a liability. Voters will vote against him by voting against the initiative. Keep "controversial" names off sponsors' list. Remember -- Self- promotion hurts the initiative. Avoid a front man that is a publicity seeker. In politics -- the best liar wins, therefore pick a good one. Try to limit interviews mostly to written responses to written questions. Give minimal personal info. Give "politically correct" type answers.

  • Initiatives should be done only to change the law, not as a political statement or for self-promotion, or for fun. The initiative should be operated as a board of directors not as a dictatorship. Dictatorial personalities are not in tune with the voters. "Yesmen" shouldn't set policy. Dedicated conservatives should work to promote the most conservative initiatives that have the best chance of passing. Can it be seen as: unfair, extreme, ill-conceived, too much/too soon, etc, etc, etc. Let's not drive a VW into battle against an Abrams Tank. Step by step plug prevents a case of ready/fire/aim. Work smart instead of working hard. Wars are decided before the 1st battle is fought. A failed initiative only makes our opponents stronger.
  • Keep the initiative simple. It should be easily explainable in one sentence. It should be self-evident as to purpose. It will be rejected if voters can't understand it, or if they don't know which side to believe. Know what objections will be raised before it is even written.
  • The initiative community in Alaska is in it's infancy. The purpose of this paper is to encourage it's hard working and dedicated members to organize and cooperate as our opponents certainly do; otherwise we have little chance to get government under control, as has been achieved in Colorado / Oregon / Washington State.

RELATIVE IMPORTANCE OF COMPONENTS TO AN ANTI-TAX BALLOT INITIATIVE
(Submitted December 2005)

(Preface: Supplement to "The Thinking Man's Guide to Ballot Initiative Strategy". This Guide assumes that scientific polling shows that the initiative has 60%+ approval Before the campaign. This allows for some loss of support After opposition speaks out.)

  1. TIMING (during recession is best) 20%
    (Importance declines slightly with increased mildness level of initiative).
  2. INITIATIVE MILDNESS LEVEL 20%
    (severe, far reaching initiatives fail).
  3. AMPLE FUNDING 20%
    (to offset opposition media campaign).
  4. OPPOSITION WEAKNESS 15%
  5. SIMPLICITY OF INITIATIVE 5%
  6. FRONT MAN "ELECTABLY CLEAN" 5%
  7. ELECTION TURNOUT DRAWING CONSERVATIVES 5%
  8. GUIDANCE FROM SUCCESSFUL INITIATIVE SPONSORS & POLITICIANS 5%.

Links & Groups

  • Initiative and Referendum Institute/ Mr. Waters)
  • WWW.permanent-offense.org (Washington State/ Tim Eyman)
  • OTU (Oregon/ Bill Sizemore)
  • SeattleTimes.comArchives search I-695 on 11 Oct 99 (describes Colorado's TABOR) (Douglas Bruce)
  • Interior Taxpayers Association/Fairbanks, Alaska (Yahoo-InteriorTaxpayers Association) (Donna Gilbert)This group has been extremely successful, we might want to emulate them.


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