As I write this we are halfway through the voting day on Tuesday. I look forward to celebrating the defeat of the TSPLOST this evening, but I’m still apprehensive.
We had to overcome an $8 million ad campaign promoting it, which is more money than Romney spent defeating Newt in Florida.
This has been a fascinating and educational campaign. Here are some of the lessons:
1. Grassroots activation is hard work.
The degree to which the general public is apathetic is frankly scary. The current generation of politicians depend on that apathy. If our country is to have any kind of future, we all must become much more engaged and active in the political arena. I participate in this and other political activities because I personally feel threatened by the direction our governments (federal and state) are taking us in. We will not change that direction unless a far larger percentage of the electorate becomes engaged.
2. Good guys are hard to find.
During the campaign we had many internal exchanges over whether or not this or that politician could be “trusted,” whether he had “lied” or whether his position was simply politically expedient. It would be nice if we could have a reliable test for honesty, integrity and frugality that we could subject them to. As it is, I have found that making moral judgements, positive or negative, about political people is very risky and error prone. For now, we have allies and opponents on an issue by issue basis, and there are no other reliable rules.
3. Everyone will never agree on everything.
Reaching consensus in a business environment is difficult enough. In a grassroots environment is it impossible. Given that, everyone willing to work and add something is of value and different volunteers bring different skill sets. Those who are willing to work the hardest and contribute the most generally end up as leaders.
4. The press is not our friend.
After numerous debates, speaking engagements, radio spots, on-camera and off-camera interviews and a press conference, I am now keenly aware of the incredible editing and manipulation done by most of the media. With the single exception of Christine Foster of the Roswell Patch, every member of the press with whom I had contact engaged in heavy editing in favor of the TSPLOST, normally by omitting the most salient facts in opposition. After reading their continual advocacy journalism, it was no surprise to discover that Cox Enterprises was a major contributor to the pro-TSPLOST campaign. PolitiFact coverage became a standing joke. The tortured logic used to create a “mostly false” conclusion on numerous anti-TSPLOST statements and a “mostly true” on pro-TSPLOST statements completely undermined the credibility of their platform. Watching local TV news is completely useless as a reliable source of information.
5. Business interests will always act in their own self-interest.
The chambers of commerce and the major corporate donors to the pro-TSPLOST campaign have a completely different agenda than the citizens. Cost-effective transportation solutions are a completely separate issue from the benefits of increased spending that they don’t have to pay for. They love a sales tax because they don’t have to pay it. The CTM campaign funding showed over $1.2 million in out-of-state contributions from companies with business interest in the projects proposed. They want us to raise our own taxes as citizens to benefit their businesses.
6. We have a long, long way to go as a state.
Prior to the 2012 legislative session I personally lobbied a number of high-level legislators to avoid the obvious disaster that HB277 had created. It will be a disaster if it passes and it will be a disaster if it fails. They should have headed it off in the last session. I was told that “the legislature just doesn’t have any appetite” for the issue. I sincerely hope the voting results can give our legislature an appetite for repealing the entire mess and putting a coherent plan in place. More on that in a later article.
My sincerest appreciation goes out to the Transportation Leadership Coalition members who gave unbelievable time and effort to this campaign. The public faces are well known by now. We’ve been debating, speaking and interviewing incessantly. The behind-the-scenes volunteers who built and managed the TrafficTruth.net web site, the Facebook page, the Twitter account, and who coordinated the speaking engagements, distributed the signs, sent hundreds of thousands of e-mails and made phone calls all are deserving of the public’s thanks, as well as my personal thanks.