Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Free WHO? and Fishy Finances

 Compared to the high profile justice center holy wars of November 2012 and May 2013, and the June 2014 county attorney primary that revisited the same issues, the question of the scaled down proposal on this fall's ballot, for courthouse expansion only without a jail, has been incredibly low key.

Despite a little nudging on my part, this no formal, organized Yes campaign. There's a very real burnout factor as many of the same people were involved in the two yes For Justice campaigns and the Janet Lyness primary race. And mailings on a ballot issue are especially hard to target when the issue is sharing space on a general election ballot. In a special election you can target frequent voters but in a general, you have to target everyone, even though 10 to 20% are going to skip a bottom of the ballot question.

There have only been low key public forums and endorsements: Yes from the Democrats, No from the Republicans.

Which points out another thing making this tough. A bond issue needs 60% to pass. My rule of thumb is: almost any money issue starts off with an automatic 20% No vote, from people who just don't want to spend money. (See: GOP No endorsement.) That means a Yes side needs to pick up 75% of what's left to win, a near-consensus level.

The John Zimmerman campaign showed us that about 30% of the Democratic primary electorate was willing to throw a highly qualified and experiences, and very likable, incumbent overboard as a protest vote over big picture criminal justice issues. (There was SOME overlap between that and the Automatic No vote, but most of that Automatic No was voting in the Republican US Senate primary.)

Throw in the architecture geeks and the folks who wanted a different location in, and that approximates the 45% No vote that "won," or blocked, the November 2012 and May 2013 proposals.

The Automatic No is unreachable, especially in this year's hyper partisan atmosphere, as is the contingent that wants to move out of downtown. The lower architectural profile of this plan  may appease the preservationists a bit. 

So the fate of the scaled back proposal is up to the lefties. Is setting the jail aside (for NOW, because sheer population growth means it's a problem that won't go away) enough to win some people over?

The shadowy "Free Johnson County" seems to be made up of only the libertarian leg of the left-libertarian Vote No New Jail/John Zimmerman coalition. The formerly prominent faded liberals seem to be sitting it out. Jeff Cox is pouring his energy into recruiting Bernie Sanders for president, and Caroline Dieterle and Carol deProsse are fighting the sales tax instead. (Zimmerman himself has left town, and is using his brand new law degree at a public defender gig in Missouri.)

So it's libertarian Sean Curtin who put his name on the above mailer, listing a box at Mailboxes Etc. for an address. That's the kind of address you use to hide.

I was amused to get one, after sticking my neck out on the other side three times in a row. But I was really looking forward to reading that campaign finance report, to see who paid.

You see, Vote No New Jail played really fast and loose with their campaign finances with implausible numbers and unattributed materials. Minutes after the last precinct reported in May 2013, Koch-backed Americans For Prosperity claimed victory.

Strategically brilliant: letting the 25% criminal justice reformers carry the message, then claiming victory on behalf of the 20% Automatic No.

So the finance reporting deadline Monday came and went with no Free Johnson County report (and no update under the old Vote No New Jail banner either). Perhaps I don't understand the strategy. Maybe they only sent a small, less than the $750 reporting limit, mailing only to their least likely voters, just to annoy us.

Or maybe, like last time, the big outsiders are waiting till the last second, to spend whatever they haven't already spent on Joni Ernst.

In either case, the courthouse campaign has been so low profile as to be easily forgettable. We have the same needs we did two years ago, a year and a half ago, that a too-narrow majority supported. This scaled-back proposal is nowhere near enough. But it helps. So don't forget to flip your ballot. On most, it's the next to last thing.

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