Who Really Won? – Commentary by John Deeth

[Source: “Who Really Won,” John Deeth Blog, 8 May 2013]

20130508we-john-deeth-blog-road-sign-300x150It feels kind of weird to, for the second time, come out of the justice center vote with significantly more votes than the other side, yet lose. Clearly, a majority of the community is convinced of the need for this plan. Maybe even a super majority is convinced of the need for this plan, but just enough withheld their votes to protest other issues.

But when I headlined this “Who Really Won?” I wasn’t grouching about Iowa’s super majority law. Both sides went into tonight knowing the rules: Yes needed 60 percent to win.

I’m talking about strategy and rhetoric. The progressive message carried the day — it’s just that there were two progressive messages.

The Yes side offered tangible near future benefits. More space for classes and courts, speedier trials, keeping inmates closer to home. And we had a precision-targeted campaign focused on people who frequently vote in local elections. We were the “insiders,” the “power elite,” though I still don’t know how I count as a member of THAT bunch.

No seemed to be targeting new voters, young voters, atypical voters, with stuff like cold-leafletting cars downtown, an effort 90% wasted on international students and shoppers from West Branch and Illinois voters. They portrayed themselves as a ragtag underfunded band of left and right outsiders. The message was almost exclusively left, focused on (very real) racial arrest disparities.

The No side lost the strategic war. There was no massive surge of student registrations or absentee ballots. 90-odd voters showed up at the IMU satellite site (which both sides worked hard) and that’s OK for a local race. But in the only local race that’s ever been swung by non-typical voters, the 2007 21 Bar vote, over nine HUNDRED showed up at Burge, and that was just one of several good days.

(Speaking of which: It’s been almost a week and STILL no one has asked me to sign the Repeal 21 petition.)

So the voters were Yes voters. They just didn’t vote Yes. No won the message war.

There were some murmurs last week about the No campaign finance report. It showed just over $2000 raised and only $75 spent between January and last week. There was a fair amount of No literature and signs around town. A lot of it did not include campaign disclaimers (“Paid For By Vote No New Jail.”) What looked from a distance like a disclaimer and a union label on the No yard signs was in fact just a squiggly line and a .org at the end, which you wouldn’t know unless you walked right up on one.

The donors listed were an interesting mix, more right than left. Of the $2000, $1000 came from a single donor: Michael Woltman, a doctor from rural Swisher and frequent GOP donor. Another $300 came from the Johnson County Republicans and $100 more for longtime local conservative donor Willis Bywater. The rest was a mix of small donations from the left voices who were most prominent in the campaign.

A little while after the last votes came in, this tweet showed up:


Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is an American conservative political advocacy group headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. AFP’s stated mission is “educating citizens about economic policy and mobilizing citizens as advocates in the public policy process.” The group played a major role in the 2010 Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives, and has been called “one of the most powerful conservative organizations in electoral politics.”

AFP was founded with the support of David H. Koch and Charles G. Koch, both of Koch Industries.

So the right wing money lets the left wing carry a Screw The Racist Cops message, because in Johnson County that plays better than anti-tax boilerplate. 20 or 30 percent of Johnson County voters will automatically vote against any spending issue, so that message wasn’t needed.

But with the voting safely over, AFP swoops in and claims a Taxpayer Revolt Victory in the People’s Republic. Shamelessly brilliant. It will be interesting to see what gets listed on the No team’s post-election campaign finance report.

I’m too beat – and yes, bummed – to crunch the numbers by precinct or compare to November. Will do that in upcoming days. Just a little bit short everywhere. I saw a lot of low 50s that needed to be high fifties, high fifties that needed to be low 60s, low 60s that needed to be low 70s. There’s also that rural Mad At The County factor that everyone now sees but no one can quite define.

Meanwhile, the battle for justice in Iowa City continues. For the second time, over-enthusiastic and racially questionable arrest policies by both the ICPD and Campus Security have cost the county a needed facility.

The next front in that battle is this fall’s city elections. If I still have friends on the No side – and I fear my flip on this issue cost me a few – it’s time to work together. If red light cameras are your thing, fine. But if you’re going to change the ICPD you need to change their bosses on the city council and that means recruiting and electing candidates. We are a college community and a racially and economically diverse community and our government needs to respect and reflect that.

In any case, tonight’s real losers are the ones in jail. The ones shipped out to Muscatine, away from their visitors and their attorneys and waiting longer for trial and not getting in-house drug counseling and batterer’s education – because someone’s ideology is more important than their reality. Feel good, “progressives?” At least you really told the cops off.

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Categories: Commentary, News Coverage


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  1. Election Outcome Commentary by El Brad Field | Johnson County Justice Center – Iowa City - May 9, 2013

    […] they wanted to protect in the first place. (The ‘innocent’ criminals) I also found John Deeth’s “who really won” commentary eye opening when we learned that “Americans for Prosperity” (AKA Koch Industries) was […]

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