I've worked on a lot of ballot issues over the years (though no one's called me about the next one), and they don't easily split along the standard partisan lines. You get uneasy bedfellows. The Yes side was a broad coalition of the center, or the Power Elite if you will, while opposition came from the wings and from outside the traditional left-right spectrum.
Yes reached the Establishment; the top score was 66 percent in Iowa City 2 on the near west side, dominated by the large Oaknoll senior complex. The precinct was county-average for president: Obama 68, Romney 30.
The Yes committee formally approached both major parties for an endorsement, and they got the Democrats. Most of the elected officials and people currently active in party leadership supported the measure. Part of that was conviction (no pun intended), part was loyalty to the elected officials. Aside: Janet Lyness and Lonny Pulkrabek were far better advocates than their predecessors were twelve years ago, both within the Democratic Party and in the larger community.
There were exceptions within the Democrats, of course, but mostly among people who'd drifted away from active party roles in recent years.
People opposed the measure for different reasons, which are difficult to separate. I'll grossly generalize here; jump in on comments if you want to add nuance.
The left tended to talk about things like minority arrest rates, the general level of incarceration in the US, and the drug war. Conservatives tended to worry more about the price tag and their general distrust of county government. The left and right concerns both led to questions about the specific size of the proposal, the fear of If You Build It You'll Fill It. And libertarians small and big L tended to agree with all of the above.
Personally, I think it was right-sized for a building meant to last decades. But there was a sense on the left that, population growth be damned, nothing larger than present-day maximum population of about 160 beds was under any circumstances acceptable. I think that means revisiting the issue in 15 years, but we'll be revisiting it sooner than that anyway since it lost.
There were other scattered objections; the word "ugly" came up sometimes regarding the century-wide gap in architectural styles between the addition and the old courthouse. Republicans on the Yes side also reported that a lot of their partisan friends had what they called a Sheriff Joe mentality: put `em in tents and feed `em bread and water. Iowa law doesn't allow that -- indeed, Arizona law doesn't either. But then, the county can't unilaterally change federal and state drug and alcohol law, either, and that moved a lot of votes, too.
So by and large the objections can be summed up as: Larger Justice System Issues and Taxes.
Which was it? Both, of course. The result was close enough that winning over either the left or right could have been decisive. But if you're trying to figure out what to do next, what's MORE important? Ah, at last my thesis question: Was opposition from the left or right more numerically significant?
The justice center vote happened in as partisan a context as possible, a presidential election. We have direct measures of partisan voting side by side with the issue. We have precincted results for both election day votes and absentees. But that's complicated by two factors.
1) The No campaign started very late, just three or four weeks before the elction.
2) The early voting electorate skewed heavily Democratic since Democrats had a much larger absentee effort.
Both President Obama and the justice center performed better in the early voting than on Election Day. Obama scored a whopping 75 percent of the early vote, but dropped to just 56 on November 6, a 19 point difference on the way to a combined total of 67%.
The justice center actually won its supermajority on the early vote, just a hair over the required 60 percent, but lost outright on Election Day at 49, for a combined 56%. 55 point six four if you want to get technical; a No person or two has equated rounding with exaggerating so precision is safest.
How much of that skew was because more Democrats voted early and more Republicans voted late, and how much was because more election day voters heard the No message?
Look at the gaps. The justice center ran 15 points behind Obama in the early voting, but just seven points behind in the more Republican pool of election day voters. That makes me think liberal objections to big picture justice issues were more mathematically significant than conservative cost concerns. (About two percent of the total electorate voted third party or write in; I strongly suspect nearly all of those votes were No, and 2.1% is a lot in a 4.4% loss.)
Congrats again to No on the win, but their actual effort doesn't seem to have shifted much. The arguments No made late in the game were apparently out there to begin with, in people's heads if not in the headlines, during early voting.
More evidence of that comes from the undervote. Early voters were a bit more likely to skip the question, with a 17% undervote rate early vs. 14% election day (combined: 15.8%). But three points isn't a lot on this stat. Compare that to another campaign where a No effort got a lot of late publicity: the 2010 judicial retention vote. Justice Baker was listed first and saw the highest total vote here. In the early voting, 25.4% skipped the contest, but on Election Day less than half that, 12.5%, undervoted. That was skewed some by Iowa City's 21 bar vote, where students voted heavily early, but that does tell me that information bias between early and late voters in 2012 wasn't a huge factor compared to 2010.
Finally let's look at the geography. The People's Republic does have isolated Republican precincts, and the courthouse Democrats have had a rural problem in recent years.
In the combined early and Election Day vote (using those combined numbers from here on down), Mitt Romney carried three of the 57 precincts: Jefferson East (greater metro Shueyville), Sharon Township, and Washington Township. All of them were below par for the justice center. But of the three, only Washington was an outright No at 55%; Yes was narrowly ahead in Shueyville and Sharon (yes, I'm fully aware that 50% plus one isn't a "win" in a supermajority context). Jefferson West (Swisher) broke almost dead even on both the presidency and the justice center. And in Big Grove (rural Solon), which Obama won by just 4 votes out of over 1100, the justice center was at an about average 55%.
It's also worth noting that Sharon and Washington, farm rural precincts as opposed to North Corridor subdivisions, are among the smallest. Washington's 55% No was, in raw numbers, 212 to 175. The two Jeffersons (Airplane and Starship, I call them) each saw roughly the 1500 total voters, about the same as a small to average urban precinct, and each contributed about 650 No votes to the cause.
The heaviest No voting rural precinct was Cedar Township (greater metro Sutliff) at 59% no. It was also the smallest precinct in the county with just 353 voters, and a 182-129 No margin. Cedar, historically very Democratic, is trending rightward. (Ironic, since the Sutliff Bridge reconstruction is one of the things conservatives point to when they bash county government spending.) The president won, but so did Republican state house candidate Bobby Kaufmann.
The most Republican urban precinct was Coralville 6, the Wickham School area, full of Escalades and big houses, where Romney scored 44%. Establishment Republican, not rural Republican, and they voted 63% Yes. And that was with over 1700 total voters and a 954-569 justice center vote, more than cancelling out those small rurals.
This is telling me that the problem was less a Republican problem and more of a Rural problem, maybe less of a tax problem and more of a trust problem.
Now let's take it downtown.
The highest No percentage in the whole county was 65% in Iowa City 19, the Iowa City Rec center precinct dominated by large off-campus apartment blocks. Precinct 20, the Senior Center precinct just east of downtown proper, was close behind at 61% No.
I know I said yesterday that the student vote didn't flip this. Overall, that's true. But that's because the student vote, as it stands in November 2012, isn't quite a monolith.
Note the difference between the on-campus and off-campus precincts. Iowa City 3 and 5 are dorm-dominated. Full of freshmen and sophomores, who got here after the 21 Bar War of 2010. Those two precincts split about 50-50. It was the off-campus areas that approached or topped 60% No. Those students are a couple years older. They were here for the transition, and have had more time to have a negative experiece with law enforcement direct or indirect.
The off-campus precincts also have more non-student influence. Precincts 20 and 11 have some senior housing. Precinct 11 (59% No) also includes my own Miller-Orchard neighborhood.
Did those No votes above and beyond the 50-50 dorm split come from progressives?
The ur-progressive People's Republic precinct is the north side, Iowa City 21. They famously (under slightly different lines) pushed George W. Bush into THIRD place, behind Ralph Nader, in 2000. And they performed well for Obama, though not the best, at 77%. Precinct 21 also voted 60% No, below any rural precinct.
Note also the large raw numbers here. Precincts 11, 20 and 21 were remarkably close in total turnout, between 1741 and 1752. 19 was a bit smaller at 1458. But that's still bigger than rural Republican Jefferson West - and remember, they only voted 50% no while Iowa City 19 was 65% No. And Iowa City 21 contributed 850 No votes. Cedar was equally negative, but ony gave No 182 votes.
Our clincher? The same precinct had the highest number of No votes and the highest number (and percentage) of Obama votes. Iowa City's Fighting 18th, at Longfellow, voted 83% Obama and 53% No, a whopping 30 point difference that contributed 898 No votes.
One counter-intuitive thing: Iowa City 14, the heart of the Twain/Broadway area, made an impressive jump into the very top tier of Democratic precincts at 81% Obama, second only to Longfellow. You'd think Broadway would be a strong No vote - but it was about average at 55-45 Yes. Same percentage in Iowa City 15, which now includes the Lakeside apartments. And Iowa City 12, the Grant Wood School neighborhood that includes the Bon Aire trailer court, was supermajority supportive at 60%.
These are mixed neighborhoods, with empty nest homeowners or starter-house families living near large low-income apartments. These areas tend to be conservative in local elections, but as we see very liberal in general election years.
It's worth noting that midtown liberal precincts were more opposed than the southeast siders. It's easy for a professor to be an idealist. If you live at Broadway, you're more likely to know someone who spent a night on a mat on the floor or got shipped out to Muscatine or had to have a "private" meeting with their lawyer in the courthouse lobby. You're also more likely to have been a crime victim. Maybe the southeast side was more pragmatic about the genuine need and less willing to make an ideology-driven Statement (again: even many opponents acknowledged the need).
Maybe I'm seeing what I want to see. I'm trying really hard to adjust the beret for objectivity here. But everything, everything, everything is telling me that opposition in liberal/progressive city precincts played a larger role in the defeat of the justice center than opposition in conservative rural areas.
That's an emotionally satisfying conclusion, but also a more difficult one. If the justice center had been clearly beaten by a 21 Bar style monolithic student vote, you just shove it through in May or August when they're gone. Unfair, but practical. If it had clearly lost due to conservative objections to the price tag, lop off a floor and try again, and some variation of that might be in the mix.
But if it lost, as I conclude, because of the Iowa City Police Department and Campus Security and the drug war and the bar war and Driving While Black and the highest national incarceration rate in the world, that's a lot harder to fix in six months or a year.
Unfortunately, much of what needs to change is outside the control of the county. All Janet Lyness and Lonny Pulkrabek and the supervisors really have is a little discretion, within legal constraints, and a bully pulpit. Kind of like what I have here with a blog, only with more credibility.
As I said in my mea culpa endorsement, "I really, really wanted the existing jail to be full of drunk college students and harmless pot smokers; the problem is, that's not true." The success, if you can call it that, of the justice center campaign is that it went a very long way toward convincing the community that there is a real need. The issues of safety, of accessibiity, of court delays, those things are now on the radar.
But the flip side is, too many concerns have been dismissed with just stats. As I said at the Board meeting the day after the election, even though the community is aware of the problems and the stats, a lot of people simply don't care. They want the law enforcement behavior to change, and this is the only place they feel like they can say no. (For some reason the more appropriate local answer, voting out the city council that lets the policing policies happen, seems to be a non-starter.)
Maybe it's impossible. Maybe if supporters make adjustments on the left, they lose people on the right who recognize the need for the facility but also support the city-University led crackdown. Maybe we can't get a 60 percent consensus on this. But we need to try, and if you're trying to get to 60, my math tells me there's more votes to gain on the left than on the right.
And both the yes and no forces have work to do.
More of the burden is on the supporters, of course. People aren't convinced we're doing everything we can to cut the arrest and incarceration rates, in general and in particular.
Is the county willing to put drug prohibition and the drinking age on its annual meeting with the legislators, coming up next month? Are they willing to take these issues with them on a trip to DC, to take up, as one local official once said to me, part of their five minutes of the congressman's time?
Are they willing to drop simple possession and low-level dealer cases, even if it costs them a federal grant or two? Will they tell the Iowa City police to take drunk students home immediately instead of to jail for a night?
Are they ready to do those things loudly? In short, are they ready to take private criticisms and make them public? With names when needed?
Most critically, are the city and University willing to respond to the needs of the larger community, rather than their flawed sense of self-interest, and back down on the crackdown?
Opponents, hold your applause. It's your turn now.
Let's assume the supporters in high places are able to do those things I suggest. Are you willing to accept their good faith efforts in lieu of immediate state and national level change? Because this is a long haul deal. Marriage equality has moved lightning fast compared to most issues, and that's taken a decade from tentative civil unions (the medical marijuana of marriage) to likely Supreme Court action this fall. The drug war is about where marriage was a decade ago, and the drinking age isn't even on the horizon. I'm starting to think I'm the only person over 21 who actually cares.
Our own local senator, Joe Bolkcom, is sponsoring a medical marijuana bill next session. Bruce Hunter from Des Moines has a full legalization bill. Good for them. But the bills won't pass, this session or next. Is the effort, is the progress, the step forward from jokes to serious discussion, enough? Is some co-sponsorship and endorsement from other locals enough? Is a show of concern, a sense that we GET it here in Johnson County, a good start, or not good enough?
And while the progress is slowly, slowly being made, are you willing to support the real world benefits this center, or a variation of it, could provide?
That's what I did, hard as it was. I've been of two minds on this whole thing for years, and now I'm in the weird spot of saying Told Ya So to my own side. And I don't know whether my high-profile flip flop gives me credibility with both sides or with neither.
If you want to make a case that Read My Lips is what beat this, be my guest, but good luck backing that up. Or if you believe that decades of state and federal policy will stop and reverse in weeks and months, I hope you're right.
But my numbers as well as my convictions tell me the course to take.