Opinion: Feeding the Beast

11 September 2017
How did Prop 443 win?

Prescott's city election is now history but a sober post mortem may be of interest to readers who are still trying to figure out what happened and why. The city election of 2017, will be remembered not just for its cost, but for being as mean and low down as they come. Why have local politics become so ugly? The answer is that for important vested interests the stakes are so high they will stop at nothing. The politics of personal destruction was victorious on election day. But the effort to unmask the dark money behind the attacks on mayoral candidate Mary Beth Hrin moves forward in court.

This wasn't just another election to pick council members or decide on a sales tax. This was a watershed election that will determine the future of our city for years to come. Behind the smiling faces and cajoling voices of politicians, voters were asked to make critical decisions about their future. Will we have more government or less? Will we force change in the state's troubled PSPRS pension system or keep funding it? Will we seek reforms and cost savings by privatizing city services or continue to rely on expensive government workers? On August 29th, we got the answer. A majority of voters, by a margin of 8700 to 7500, voted to feed the beast by raising their own taxes. This was an election about reform. And reform lost.

If Prop 443 had been defeated, the city might have been forced to look at reducing the city workforce and privatizing services. Financial necessity might have driven reforms such as using private contractors for trash collection and contracting out billing and payroll and the city's expensive in house legal department. But the passage of Prop 443 ensures that the city will be flush with cash, at least for now. Cost saving reforms will not be needed. The only mayoral candidate who advocated cost saving reforms finished out of the running.

Stand for Prescott, the PAC that promoted Prop 443 is understandably pleased. They worked hard and raised a lot of money. In the interest of full disclosure, I fought as hard as I could to defeat the tax increase, contributing $8,000 of my own funds to the effort, appearing on talk radio shows, and personally canvassing 1400 homes. But the No on 443 PAC was outspent 4 to 1. With the exception of Representative Noel Campbell and myself, Prescott's entire political establishment endorsed the tax hike. All mayoral and city council candidates, with the notable exception of Mary Beth Hrin and Phil Goode, supported a higher sales tax for all who live or shop in Prescott.

How are we to interpret this result? In recent elections, Prescott voters have repeatedly refused to raise their sales tax. Why not this time? Those who supported higher taxes in the past and lost have learned from their mistakes. This time they did not underestimate their opposition and mounted a serious campaign. Three other factors worked in their favor. Prop 443 won strong support from the business community and political establishment. This provided the resources to get their message out. The pro tax supporters were also able to draw on strong public support for police and firefighters. This helped them make headway with conservative voters normally opposed to higher taxes. Finally, Prescott is the seat or our county government. There are a lot of government workers living in Prescott and they vote.

The passage of Prop 443 was unique in that it brought together a broad coalition of voters who are not often aligned. But if tax and spend liberals think they have found a formula for success, I have a cautionary note. Prescott's conservative voter base is intact. During the campaign, No on Prop 443 volunteers canvassed the homes of 1400 registered Republicans. I personally spoke to roughly 20% of them. By a substantial majority--60 to 65 percent--they told me they were opposed to Prop 443.

Our resources were limited so our canvassing was a get out the vote effort limited to Republican homes. We were not able to gauge overall voter sentiment and missed the larger trend among Independents and Democrats. But election results show Republicans were the largest voting block. Our canvassing suggests that the biggest part of the 7500 votes against Prop 443 were conservative Republicans.

This view is reinforced by the fact that Phil Goode, the top vote getter for City Council, was the only council candidate opposed to Prop 443. The 8700 votes in favor of Prop 443 appears to have been cobbled together among Democrats and like minded Independents and a minority of pro tax Republicans. The lesson for anyone planning to run in a Republican primary is obvious. To those of us disappointed by the passage of Prop 443, let us take heart that our conservative base held firm and may serve us well in elections yet to come.

David Stringer

David Stringer is a local attorney and publisher of PrescotteNews. A resident of Prescott, he also serves as a State Representative for LD1 in the Arizona Legislature.