Proposition A – the progressive choice
With an analysis by Rich DeLeon
This week's Bay Guardian, as well as other recent
developments, make it very clear that Proposition A is the PROGRESSIVE
choice for San Francisco. Why? Three reasons. Please read on.
1. December runoff elections HURT progressive voters.
The Bay Guardian quotes from a recent study by Professor
Rich DeLeon, author of the prize-winning "Left Coast City" about San
Francisco politics, which shows that "December runoffs have hurt
progressive voters, candidates and causes in the past and will continue
to do so in the future, even under district elections." Proposition A
uses an "instant" runoff on election day in November to get rid of the
low-turnout December runoff which has always hurt progressives (See
below for Prof. DeLeon's full analysis, called "Do December runoffs help
or hurt progressives?").
2. "No on Proposition A" campaign FUNDED BY CORPORATIONS
AND DOWNTOWN BUSINESS INTERESTS.
Given that progressives are hurt (and conservatives
helped) by December runoffs, it's not surprising that, as it turns out,
the "NO on Prop A" campaign is being funded by a notorious downtown
business group known as the Committee on JOBS, as some investigative
sleuthing by the Bay Guardian's Savannah Blackwell has revealed. The
Committee on JOBS and their accomplices at the Chamber of Commerce and
Republican Party have opposed numerous progressive issues and
candidates, including Tom Ammiano, public power, pro-tenant legislation,
and more. They know that conservative and Republican voters turn out
more reliably in the low-turnout December runoffs, amplifying the
strength of the conservative vote. Reportedly, the Committee on JOBS has
run "instant runoff" simulations that have led them to believe that if
Prop A passes, Tom Ammiano will be elected the next mayor.
And they are determined to stop that.
3. SLEAZY CAMPAIGN TACTICS used by the "No on
Proposition A" campaign.
The "No on A" campaign is being orchestrated by various
political consultants, both Republican and Democratic, who have resorted
to mudslinging and low-ball tactics, like using the photo of a state
senator on their anti-Prop A mailings WITHOUT the senator's permission –
AND refusing to withdraw the use of the photo, even after being told to
do so by the senator!
Also, the bogus campaign committee created by the
Committee on JOBS is now under investigation by the Ethics Commission
because to date they have not filed proper disclosures for money raised
or spent as required by law.
Read below for more details:
(1) DECEMBER RUNOFFS HURT PROGRESSIVES: THE EVIDENCE.
The Bay Guardian's Savannah Blackwell's column called
Desk" cites a recent study by Professor Rich DeLeon at San
Francisco State University. That study revealed that "conservatives
still turn out in much larger numbers in runoffs," wrote Blackwell. The
ratio of conservative voters to progressive voters INCREASED in the
December runoff, not decreased, as some had assumed since Dennis Herrera
beat Jim Lazarus.
Specifically, progressive voter turnout declined by
about twenty percent more than conservative turnout, DeLeon wrote in an
analysis submitted to the Bay Guardian (see below for DeLeon's full
analysis). Concluded Prof. DeLeon, "If San Francisco had used
[Proposition A's] same-day runoff in November, Herrera most likely would
have won by an even greater margin."
What about the December 2000 runoff elections that
produced such a progressive Board of Supervisors? Wasn't that the result
of a surge in progressive voters? Not so, says DeLeon. "Many powerful
forces converged in that election, not least the anti-Willie Brown
backlash, the cresting of the dot-com invasion, and the return to
district elections, which forced despised incumbents to stand trial
before angry neighborhood electorates. Progressive success that year was
not due solely to a one-time surge in turnout among progressive voters.
Clearly the December 2000 district runoffs were a spectacular exception
to well-established historical trends."
Translation: we won't always have such a powerful tide
of anti-Willie backlash to count on for the success of progressive
politics. In fact, now with a progressive Board of Supervisors, likely
the next election will see a bit of a backlash against them. And with
conservatives turning out more reliably in December runoffs, that will
hurt progressives' chances.
Based on the evidence, Prof. DeLeon concluded, "December
runoffs have hurt progressive voters, candidates and causes in the past
and (absent "same-day" runoffs) will continue to do so in the future,
even under district elections."
(2) DOWNTOWN CORPORATIONS FUNDING THE "NO ON A"
Blackwell's column also said, "Corporations against
Prop. A – Here's another reason to believe Prop. A will help
progressives: the Committee on Jobs is against it. Campaign mailers
describing instant runoff voting as a ‘risky experiment,’ paid for in
part with a $25,000 donation from the committee, which represents the
city's biggest corporations, have started hitting voters' mailboxes."
Blackwell uncovered this information by talking with one of the "No on
A" political consultants. Concluded Blackwell: "The consultants who work
for the committee aren't sure how to manipulate an instant-runoff voting
system. So they'd rather stick to what we have now."
According to one pro-Prop A insider from the downtown
business community, the Committee on JOBS has run "instant runoff"
simulations that have led them to believe that if Prop A passes, Tom
Ammiano will be elected the next mayor. And they are determined to stop
that. Business interests reportedly are pulling out the stops in the
waning days, even finding printers who are printing full color "hit"
pieces at-cost for the "No on A" campaign.
3) Sleazy campaign tactics of the "No on A" campaign.
According to documents filed with the Ethics Commission,
a campaign committee called San Franciscans for Voter Rights claims to
have raised and/or spent under $1,000 against Prop A. Yet recently they
mailed a "No on A" mail piece, four color, 11 x 17, to tens of thousands
of households. The cost of designing, printing and mailing such a piece
is estimated to be at least $50,000, depending on the quantity. If so,
Not only that, but the shadowy "San Franciscans for
Voting Rights" committee sent out a mail piece with a picture of State
Senator Jackie Speier on it, invoking her image for the opposition.
While Speier has taken a position opposed to A, she never gave her
permission for them to use her photo or likeness. When she found out
about the use of her photo, she directed the "No on A" committee to
cease immediately using her photo for future mailings. I called up one
of the "No on A" campaign consultants and asked if he would honor the
senator's request. Using a convoluted line of Clintonesque reasoning,
this consultant said, "It all depends on what your definition of 'future
mailings' is." By that, he meant they had no intention of stopping the
use of her photo, because other mailings already were "in production"
and thus according to his definition did not qualify as a "future
mailing." It was like asking Bill Clinton what the definition of “is”'
But this is just symptomatic of the kind of sleazy
campaigning the "No on A" side has conducted all along. They have relied
on mudslinging tactics and the age-old propaganda tactic that if you
repeat falsehoods and misinformation enough times, people might start
believing it's the truth. These political consultants are skilled at
manipulating and misinforming voters, and they are trying to do it with
For more information, see
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Do December runoffs help or hurt progressives?
By Rich DeLeon
This question arises in debates about Proposition A, the
March ballot measure that would replace December runoff elections with
an "instant" or "same-day" runoff, if needed, to be completed on
November election day.
I crunched some numbers on recent voting trends to
measure the impacts of December runoffs on various constituencies,
particularly progressives. Bay Guardian readers should find the results
worth thinking about before they decide how to vote on Proposition A.
First, I constructed an index of progressive voting in
San Francisco precincts based on 12 key ballot measures from November
2000 to November 2001. You can view a map and list of these Progressive
Voting Index (PVI) scores on the Usual Suspects website at
Second, using the PVI scores as a tool, I compared voter
turnout in the 25 percent most progressive precincts with the 25 percent
least progressive (most conservative) precincts in both the November and
December 2001 elections.
Here is what the comparison revealed.
November 2001 general election: For every 100 voters who
turned out in the progressive precincts, 107 turned out in the
conservative precincts. This 7 percent difference is fairly close to
December 2001 runoff election: For every 100 voters who
turned out in the progressive precincts, 126 turned out in the
conservative precincts. This dramatic increase in the ratio of
conservative to progressive voters occurred despite (or perhaps because
of) the 44 percent drop in voter turnout citywide between November and
If December runoffs favor conservatives, as the evidence
shows, how did liberal Dennis Herrera beat conservative Jim Lazarus in
the December 2001 runoff for city attorney? If victories like that can
be won under the current election rules, why do progressives need
The answer is suggestive. If San Francisco had used a
same-day runoff in November, Herrera most likely would have won by an
even greater margin. In November, the liberal/progressive candidates for
city attorney won a combined 60 percent of the vote. It is highly likely
that nearly all of those votes in an instant runoff would have stayed
in-house and transferred to Herrera. In the December runoff, however,
Herrera won with only 52 percent of the vote. Thus, due to the
proportionally greater decline in progressive voter turnout, Herrera
probably lost approximately 8 percent of his potential vote, making the
Progressive defenders of December runoffs have also
pointed to the progressive sweep in the December 2000 runoffs for Board
of Supervisors as evidence justifying opposition to Proposition A. But
clearly the December 2000 district runoffs were a spectacular exception
to well-established historical trends. Many powerful forces converged in
that election, not least the anti-Willie Brown backlash, the cresting of
the dot-com invasion, and the return to district elections, which forced
despised incumbents to stand trial before angry neighborhood
electorates. Progressive success that year was not due solely to a
one-time surge in turnout among progressive voters. Those who believe
that Proposition A might prevent this kind of happy history from
repeating itself have deluded themselves into thinking that the
exception is the rule. The exception is the exception; strategy and
policy should be based on the rule.
Based on the evidence presented, I conclude that
December runoffs have hurt progressive voters, candidates and causes in
the past and (absent same-day runoffs) will continue to do so in the
future, even under district elections. Vote for Proposition A.
Rich DeLeon is Professor of Political Science at San
Francisco State University. He is the author of “Left Coast City,” a
book about San Francisco politics.