(If you were one of the 83 percent of registered voters who passed on last week's election, let us clue you in. It happened. The mayor won, and most of the props won too. Let's look at the two that didn't.)
By Benjamin Wachs
When it comes to ballot measures, San Franciscans will vote for anything with the words “children,” “horses,” or “green” in it. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, they’ll usually vote for anything with the words “the,” “and” or “vote” in it, too.
That’s why about 3/4ths of proposed ballot measures have passed over the last 10 years, according to Ben Tulchin, Vice President and Western Region Director for the Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.
“San Francisco’s a ‘yes’ city,” he said.
Exhibit A is this year’s election -- 9 out of 11 ballot measures passed, most by highly convincing margins. We now have horse stables in Golden Gate Park that nobody really wants; an expensive new small business bureaucracy that will probably be no more effective than the other 3 already on the books, and a vote of confidence in a wireless system that no one actually thinks will work.
If you give a million San Franciscans a million ballots, this is what happens.
But what about the two measures that didn’t pass? That’s the interesting question to come out of the 2007 – in a promiscuous city, what’s it take for no one to accept your proposition?
Mayor Gavin Newsom, 72%
Supervisor Chris Daly, 19%
One measure, Proposition E (The Gav would have to appear before the supes once a month), has an easy answer: Gavin Newsom. (That’s also, interestingly, the answer to “What happened to my lawn gnome?”).
According to hardened veterans of this year’s campaign, the absurdly popular mayor set his sights on Prop E as enemy numero uno. And when Gavin Newsom tells citizens of San Francisco to do something, they overwhelmingly respond, “I like your hair.”
Prop E was extremely popular, according to Tulchin. Because who doesn’t want the mayor to show up? I want the mayor to show up – he’s got nice hair. But the beloved mayor was against it and San Francisco’s public (servant) enemy #1, Supervisor Chris Daly, was for it … and that was the whole ball game.
Prop E opponents spent scads of money and time reminding voters that Daly’s really, really, really annoying … and voters responded “Yeah! Where’s my lawn gnome!” Even so, Prop E almost squeaked through – it lost by a mere 5,000 votes – and an effective ground game by the “vote yes on E” crowd could have turned it around.
But there was no ground game, there was no money spent on pro-Prop E flyers, and there was no handsome public figure to reassure voters that wicked Chris Daly wasn’t going to steal their gay marriages away.
We fell for that? I feel so dirty.
Prop H was a big loser. In a town where over 1,000 people were willing to vote for a homeless cab driver who got arrested twice during his campaign for mayor, more than two-thirds of voters thought Prop H didn’t belong on the ballot.
Prop H really was just a bad idea … but voters couldn’t be expected to know that. The measure was described as a way to increase residential parking, which everybody likes. Trouble is, that was a … how to say this nicely … blatant lie.
“H had a really sexy ballot question – do you want more parking?” said David Noyola, a Legislative Aid to Board President Aaron Peskin. “But it was dragged down by really awful policy. Voters needed to be made aware of it.”
That was made possible by a surprisingly tight alliance of local progressive causes. “I think H’s defeat benefited from a serious grass roots effort, on behalf of everyone from the Sierra Club to the Pike coalition to the people working on Proposition A,” Noyola said. “At the end we had a really outstanding coalition of labor and environmental advocacy groups.”
That accounts for many of the anti-H votes. But H was voted against by a lot more votes than A was voted for - suggesting that something else was at play, too.
There was. According to Tulchin, the paid media for anti-H efforts had a simple message “H is for Hummers.” The direct mail pieces had huge hummers on them, belching smoke and warming the globe.
Hummers bad! And if you voted for Prop H, people would have places to park their Hummers!
Seriously? 15,000 people (the difference between A and H) fell for that?
Eew. I’ve never felt so … dirty … doing the right thing.
H also stands for “Don Fisher,” the conservative bagillionaire whose existence is anathema to San Francisco progressives.
“The fact that Don Fisher supported H,” said San Francisco political analyst David Latterman said, “really did help focus attention on the idea that this was something we don’t want.”
So what have we learned?
If you want to get San Franciscans to defy their trusting natures and vote against something, it’s got to have a scarecrow. The only things that failed this election were the ones that had an evil scarecrows planted behind them: Hummers bad, Chris Daly bad, and … whether they’re doing the right thing (prop H) or the wrong one (Prop E) voters are pretty bad too for falling for it.