How to Win a Ballot Measure Campaign

We were very pleased this summer to be identified as a major player, in the Eno Center for Transportation's laudatory account of the 2016 Measure M campaign—along with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and LA Metro. That win—with 71.15% of the vote—on a measure now providing $120 billion (mostly for transit) in LA County on a ballot that included three other successful funding measures (for community colleges, parks and homeless housing and services) was remarkable. Voters suddenly seemed very willing to tax themselves to help solve the county's real needs.

The non-profit Eno Center is a progressive transportation think tank in Washington D.C. that has been publishing analyses of transportation ballot measures in the recognition that new transportation funding sources are necessary. The reason? Federal gas tax revenues, long the biggest source of transportation funding, have been declining as the fuel efficiency of cars increases. The Eno Center sees LA County's ballot measures as an example for other counties.

The Eno report, a joint effort with the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and written by UCLA Professor Michael Manville, noted that “Measure M is a classic example of coalition politics. Much of the work surrounding the measure involved building an alliance to support it. This took place long before voters even saw the proposal . . . Measure M’s success began with a coalition representing almost every geographic area and large stakeholder.”

And, the Eno Center noted, not only did Move LA play the role of coalition-convener in the 2016 campaign but had done the same in 2008 when Measure R won with just 66.7% of the vote, a victory no less remarkable than Measure M, however, as the Great Recession was crashing down all around us. (Yes, that's Move LA's Executive Director Denny Zane to the right in both R and M photos above.)

The Measure R win also prompted a study by the Dukakis Urban & Regional Policy Center at Northeastern University, written by the center’s Associate Director Stephanie Pollack—now Secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. This study discussed Denny's role in initiating the campaign at a summit he organized in early January 2008, after which he convened a powerful business-labor-environmentalist coalition to support the idea.

Wrote Pollack, “A charismatic leader can get the ball rolling and help overcome adversity. While the circumstances in 2007 clearly were ripe for a transportation finance campaign, someone had to convene the stakeholders. It is fair to say that without Zane there would not have been a Measure R campaign. Zane’s ability to bring people together and his willingness to take a risk kick-started this effort and likely carried it through.”

Move LA Policy and Communications Director Gloria Ohland was invited to Oakland last month to share the Measure R and M lessons with Bay Area transportation leaders and advocates who are considering a measure for their 2020 ballot. She talked about the importance of building multi-constituency coalitions and finding common ground—and how that is best done face-to-face, one conversation at a time. We believe that is the most important lesson!

We will soon share our coalition-building plans around the issues of affordable housing, clean air, climate change, regional high-velocity express rail, zero-emission technologies and the imminent need to address short-lived climate pollutants (also called super pollutants)—and hope you will join us. Stay tuned!

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