Endorsements, Money and Strategy: A Look at Horse Racing Charter Reform

Portland City Hall, October 8, 2009. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Aaaaaannnnnnd… they are gone! Endorsements take the head of the gate, one length, two lengths. Here comes the money! The money stands out. It’s endorsements, money, endorsements, money, neck and neck in the final curve. What is this? It’s Strategy! The strategy closes the distance…

There’s no such thing as a good horse race, and Measure 26-228 (the charter reform measure on the November ballot) is the one to watch. Sometimes a race is so interesting that it cuts through talking points and campaign soundbites to reveal the real power struggle behind it. This is one of those times.

The issue is how Portland governs itself and elects its local elected officials. In previous articles, BikePortland has covered the big issues and history that got Portland to this point, and we’ve explained the details of how Ranked Choice Voting works in multi-member precincts.

This post is limited to describing the state of affairs with campaigns – approvals, money, strategy.

Amendments

Nowhere is the difference between proponents and opponents of the charter reform measure more evident than in the (lack of) competition for endorsements.

Portland United for Change (PUC), the leading proponent of reform, gathered endorsements from 50 civic, community and labor organizations – the Portland branches of the League of Women’s Voters, the Urban League, the ACLU, the NAACP, Common Cause…The City Club, Apano, the Street Trust, Verde, OPAL…the Portland Association of Teachers, Service Employees Union Local 49, LiUNA (Labourers’ International Union of North America) Local 737.

And the other side? Common Sense Government Partnership (PCSG)? Their website does not list any endorsements by civic groups. It’s a shutout. Their supporters are all individuals – retired politicians and city workers – as well as influential and wealthy Portlanders.

PCSG was founded in early summer by defeated candidate for city council Vadim Mozyrsky and former aides to mayor Bud Clark Chuck Duffy and Steven Moskowitz. I wanted to contact them to ask about endorsements and fundraising, but I couldn’t find any contact information on their webpage. That in itself answered most of my questions.

Communications strategist Damon Motz-Storey of Portland United for Change, explained that opponents of reform are “used to being inside the corridors of power, with access and connections, but they don’t have much of a base. “, which could partly explain the asymmetry of endorsement.

But it also looks like the PCSG could be pushed around by the young group of PUC politicians.

Silverthere

As of September 27, Portland United for Change has surpassed Partnership for Common Sense Government in the race for money.

PUC reported cash and in-kind contributions of $205,000 and, according to an email from the group earlier this month, an additional $200,000 in pledges for a total of approximately $400,000 in cash, in-kind support and pledged donations.

Their top contributors are Oregon Ranked Choice Voting, FairVote, Building Power for Communities of Color, Northwest Health Foundation, and North Star Action Center. The main donor, Oregon Classé Choice Voting, donated $50,000.

PCSG raised less than a fifth of what PUC has, or about $38,000. PCSG lists few expenses, which may be why their web page is rudimentary and there is no one home to answer the phone.

What is happening here?

There is a third Political Action Committee (PAC), the Ulysses PAC, formed last year by City Commissioner Mingus Mapps. The Mapps and Mozyrsky PACs originally looked like a good cop/bad cop team. Mozyrsky’s Partnership for Smart Government would directly oppose the measure, while Ulysses’ PAC would hold public forums featuring experts to educate Portland residents. This would allow Mapps to position himself above the fray, as a moderate simply trying to help the public.

The Ulysses PAC said it raised about $150,000 in contributions. Their main donor is Schnitzer Properties LLC, which donated $25,000. And they have many expenses, mainly for strategists and consultants.

Vote splitting strategy

The Ulysse PAC educational forums do not appear to have taken place. The opposition’s main strategy now appears to be to split the pro-reform vote with an alternative proposal that Ulysses’ PAC will release next week. The aim is to tempt voters to reject the current ballot measure in favor of the alternative, which Mapps promises to put on the spring 2023 ballot.

With the Ulysses PAC releasing its alternative plan just weeks before the November ballots are sent out, there is little time left for debate, analysis or discussion. The obstruction of a two-year public process sounds like the goal of this 11-hour deadline.

Of note, the Charter Reform Commission held extensive community outreach and listening sessions, including 81 town hall meetings, 34 policy discussions with community organizations, and 111 briefings and presentations.

The Ulysses PAC developed its proposed alternative project in-house with help from opinion research firm DHM Research. DHM organized two focus groups of ten people each, as well as surveys.

In other words, the current ballot proposal is the product of an open process. The proposal waiting in the wings is the work of a select group of people and their consultants.

where is the criticism?

What did not come from the opponents of measure 26-228 was a substantive criticism of the work of the Charter Review Commission.

The commission’s decision to propose a ranked voting method with multi-member districts was informed by an analysis of Portland’s voting and demographics by a nationally recognized research group, the MGGG Redistricting Lab.

MGGG research is at the heart of the ballot proposal, but the opposition never mentions it. If there were substantive criticism, it would be tackling this research head-on. Especially since the study has evaluated the scheme proposed by the PAC of Ulysses – 7 to 9 constituencies with a seat with a single winner – and shows that it will not be enough to increase representation.

Instead, opponents rely on spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) – it’s too complicated!, voting shouldn’t be rocket science!, 25%!!!, extremism!

The take-out sale

It’s a snapshot of where the campaigns are today. On Monday, the Oregonian reported the results of a new Portland Business Alliance poll showing that 63% of Portland voters plan to support the charter reform measure. But the whole race could heat up in the coming weeks, with an influx of money leading to TV ads and mailings just weeks before the polls deadline.

However, in the final straight, the supporters of the 26-228 measure seem to be several steps ahead of their opponents.

Disclosure: Lisa Caballero was one of Ulysses’ first PAC donors and also donated to the Mingus Mapps Town Council run.

About Janet Young

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