Friday, September 26, 2014

This season's most deceptive, cynical political TV ad - the Fairy Tale that is the No on Proposition 45 campaign

Young people rallying in favor of Proposition 45
If you live in California, you've seen it, probably multiple times. The earnest looking not-too-attractive Asian female doctor saying Proposition 45 is evil and you must vote against it or you will rot in Hell. Well, not in those words exactly, but that's the gist. Vote against this or the "independent commission" will not be able to lower your health insurance rates. Instead a nasty vile politician who can take millions from special interests and has blood on his hands, maybe even fangs dripping with the blood of innocent victims, will make your health insurance rates go up.

You've been witness to possibly the most deceptive ad since the 1988 Willie Horton ad against Massachusetts Governor and Democratic Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis and that one was wildly successful. (Of course Dukakis didn't help himself any by appearing in that tank, but I digress).

This ad claims that voting for Prop. 45 will prevent an "independent commission" from regulating our rates by putting all the power into a single politician's hands, one who is free to take millions in special interest money. (Similar ads have been exposed by Consumer Watchdog and others, already.)

That's an out and out lie. a) There is no independent commission. What there is is the Covered California board, appointed by the governor and the legislature to oversee the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It has no power to regulate rates. It can only negotiate with insurance companies.

b) The single politician is our elected (not appointed) insurance commissioner, Dave Jones. Dave Jones has never taken one dime from insurance companies. However, the legislators who appoint the Covered California Board can and many do take money and lots of it from those self-same companies.

c) By allowing our elected insurance commissioner to do his job, that is make the insurance companies justify their rates (something that is out of his purview now) will actually help Covered California negotiate for the benefit of ratepayers. The insurance commissioner already can regulate auto insurance and home insurance, why not add health insurance to the mix?

d) Guess who paid for that ad? You may have trouble reading the fine print. Even if you can read it, you may miss the fact that the groups listed on the bottom of your screen are actually insurance companies and big business. Not to disclose this information is actually illegal under California's campaign finance laws.

Or are the insurance companies too big to follow the rules?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Slow Vote

Excuses for not voting - or voting "fast"

I can't tell you the number of times I've heard people say "I couldn't decide how to vote on (school board, sewer board, water board, community services district or other down ballot race), so I just voted for the first name. That probably wasn't a good idea is it?"

Or they say "I couldn't decide who to vote for on (down ballot race) so I left it blank. Guess I should ahve done some homework."

Or "I didn't know who to vote for, but I've seen signs around town for (candidate so-and-so) so I just went with him. At least he went out and bought signs."

Or "I didn't vote for (so-and-so) because they called me during dinner. I never vote for someone who calls during dinner." And then they find out the guy who won, the other guy, may not have called them during dinner, but he isn't going to be looking out for their, or the district's, best interests either. 

You've heard all the excuses people have for either not voting, or leaving part of their ballot blank or voting because they saw a sign. the person was the incumbent or they had the same name as their aunt in Bakersfield. Well I have an antidote for that. I call it "Slow Vote" and I got the inspiration from a column in the S.F. Chronicle this week by Caille Millner on "Slow Reading."

Slow Vote

And she got the idea from the Slow Food movement. Slow reading is like taking your time to really read something, a book with substance that makes you think, something you can get real meaning out of, instead of skimming headlines or googling articles on topics of passing interest. Millner didn't invent Slow Reading; she heard about from other articles and just connected with it in a personal way. It made enough of an impression her to dedicate on of her weekly columns to it.

Millner learned that studies have shown that slow reading makes real differences in people's lives. A study published in Science showed that "reading literary fiction makes people more insightful and empathetic, a study in Neurology last year showing that reading helped elderly people avoid memory loss.."

So I had my own little brainstorm and thought "Slow Voting!" or "Slow Vote" (it just sounds better).

With Slow Vote, voters will actually take the time to learn about the candidates on the ballot, not just those at the top of the ticket bu the down ballot races too. They will do more than watch the TV ads which are often negative and misleading.

They will do more than glance at the mail from the candidates on the way to the recycling bin. They will do more than see who the local newspaper endorsed.

They will read articles about the candidates from more than one news source. They will attend candidate forums and neighborhood coffees to meet the candidate personally and ask in-depth questions. They will read the campaign mail, all of it, from all sides, even the smaller print underneath the glowing bullet points.

Ideally, they would examine the reports made periodically to the Fair Political Practices Commission to see who has given how much money in each  race.

Will it work?

I'm a campaign consultant, I deal in bullet points and sound bites. When my clients show me their detailed plan for ending homelessness, preserving the environment or improving the District's budget, I distill it into easy to digest large print headlines and dramatic scripted scenes for mail and electronic ads.

But I'd rather send voters the whole package. Show them how smart my client is; how well though out her proposals are (assuming, that is, that they are well thought out and actually accomplishable).

But will it work? Probably not in the foreseeable future. So keep looking for mailers, RV ads and robo calls.  But do read the fine print, especially the disclaimers on the TV ads (if you can; they tend to go by pretty darned fast), and become as informed as you can be before you vote this November.

Take a deep breath and vote slow.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Get out there and register the Millenials now!

Think newly registered folks don't vote? Think younger voters don't vote? Think again. Newly registered Millennials vote, and those voters you sign up between now and the last day of registration are the most likely to vote. A new study by Political Data Inc. whose results were published in Washington Post showed the startling reality. We all know older people vote, but only if they've been registered awhile. When it comes to new voters, it's younger people newly registered closer to the election who will vote this November.

So hit those college campuses and sign up new voters. They will remember you on Election Day, and if your race is close, you'll be especially glad you made the effort.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Proofread everything - Even your own name

Did I tell you about the campaign where the candidate's mail had him running for office in a completely different town? That guy didn't proofread his own materials.

Better than doing it yourself (though you are ultimately responsible, so do it yourself too) is to have a good proofreader in the form of a trusted staffer with a good eye and spelling skills do it for you.

A fresh set of eyes on the mailer before it goes to the printer and when the proof comes back can catch something your jaded set of peepers might just miss. Like when you, or your mail consultant,  spells your own name wrong. This happened. A candidate named, let's say Alison, had a consultant who created some eye catching mail with a logo that read "Vote for Allison." See the problem?

When Alison looked at, she wasn't looking at the spelling of her name. She was looking for typos in endorsement names, or punctuation errors, something she was good at, having been an English teacher for 20 years.

It wasn't until the mail was printed and sitting in people's mailboxes, that she caught the error, on the mail that arrived in her own mailbox.

Then it was obvious. Luckily most people wouldn't notice the difference between one l Alison and two l Allison. But the guy with the wrong town? You can bet people noticed that!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Consultants - Are they a shady crowd?

I got to thinking about consultants and whether they are, or seem to be, more "shady" than those in other professions. As a member of this profession, I like to think of myself as ethical and anything but shady. Unfortunately, I have come across too many of my brethren and, less frequently, sisthren (not a word I know), who might be less than totally above board. Even in small local races.

An example. The guy who laundered his own client's money to sent out a gratuitous hit piece full of outright lies and slander about his opponent in a water board race. Through a labyrinthine process by which the money went all over the state and eluded disclosure at several levels, it took five years for the truth to out. The candidate, now the sitting water board member got a slap on the wrist in the form of piddling $5000 fine. He's still there.

How about the guy who took the name of a well known and well regarded, but languishing organization and made his own slate card out of it to benefit his wife, running for a City Council race? How about imaginary money for work he did on her campaign and claimed was paid for by a loan - from her.

Then there's the one who stole a campaign from yours truly, lost the race, then came up to me at a party where he was attempting to again wrest a client away, and flashed his materials (the ones that lost the previous race remember) under my nose.

Some consultants just have gall.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Everyone has an opinion on how to run YOUR campaign

Invariably. in any campaign, your best friend, your cousin Al, your neighbor's uncle's barber, will tell you what you're doing wrong in your campaign and how to fix it.

If you are an inexperienced campaigner, or even a little bit insecure, you may listen to these people, even if you have hired a consultant for the purpose of listening to her advice. I can't count the number of times a candidate has called or emailed me in a panic, saying "People are complaining that I don't have a picture of the City Hall steps on my brochure. They say no one will know what I'm running for if I don't have it!" or "I have to do a completely separate handout for Republicans."

Relax. When I ask who "everybody" is, it's usually one or two people several steps removed from the campaign, who think they know better, or just want to be involved.

Of course you do need some trusted advisers in your area who know the issues and the players. Whose opinion you value and who can work well with others. We often ask the candidate to choose one or at most two people to share an ad or a mailer with before it goes to the printer, just for an other pair of trusted eyes, closer to the campaign. But that's it, when you start running everything past a committee or all your friends and neighbors, it gets muddled, time is lost and your consultants pull out their hair. (if not yours!)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Campaigns with a technical twist

Some local offices attract people with an expertise in the field, water board, sewer board, fire board, for instances. And conversely, voters are attracted to those candidates who sound like they have the needed expertise to do the job.

Perception is everything when it comes to the down ticket race for a position that involves managing a recourse or public safety. Especially for the low-information voter. I've seen many races won and lost because the person with "water engineer," "environmental scientist," or "former firefighter" as their ballot designation. even though they had never held public office, had no managerial experience nor a history of interacting with the District they are running for.

This is true even against a better funded candidate with more voter contacts and a professionally run campaign who has studied the issues facing the District for years. Even former elected officials have a hard time moving from Town Council or School Board to Water District or Sanitary District.

So if you seek a technical sounding position, think of the voter who will do no more than read the ballot designation, and see if you can come up with one that sounds impressive and conveys actual expertise in the field.