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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Publisher’s Notebook

• Some Malibu Post-Election Reflection •


Perhaps the 2012 Malibu City Council election can be understood best by watching those who placed second and third don the top vote-getter’s baseball caps. Even though the age differences between them is almost half a century, the winners all waged campaigns from the same playbook.
The candidate with the most votes, à la “the candidate” in the movie of that name, campaigned hard with a strong donor base and endorsement lists that read like a who’s who of the community and entertainment world, brochures, mailings, print and online advertising, and lawn signs, as well as projected an image that was all Malibu.
As soon as the list of city council candidates was finalized, I donned political science academic regalia and discussed such basic electoral tenets as voters are influenced first by family and friends, then by primary environmental forces; and it takes diverse messages communicated in a wide array of formats to reach diverse voters, but there were candidates who thought they could go a different route and win.
Those who said their campaigns would be based on ideas versus methodology appeared not to have decided how they would connect with likely Malibu voters. On Election Day, it was interesting how many voters said they had forgotten there were seven candidates or assumed some candidates only were running to draw attention to specific issues because those voters were never contacted by them or saw their campaigns.
As for the critics of lawn signs, they ignore that people want to know who their neighbors are supporting. Ditto the long endorsement lists that people read through in search of the names of people they know or would like to know.
Low voter turnout can be a sign of apathy but it also is a coefficient of stand-alone elections. Malibu’s first post cityhood election was in April because of the scheduling delay of incorporation, but for the elections after that, a number of us have repeatedly urged a November consolidated election when there is a stronger political mindset. This is not true just in Malibu but everywhere separate local elections are held.
As for those who decry the increasing numbers of people who cast vote-by-mail ballots, the former “absentee ballots.” It’s not just vacationers. Commuters, busy professionals, and those in demanding fields, such as medical and emergency personnel, are becoming permanent VBMs. Elections will surely go digital as soon as there’s a system unable to be hacked by a bright thirteen-year-old. Until then, candidates need two campaign timetables—one for the VBMs, another for the dwindling ranks who will go to the polls in person.
Per Machiavelli and Bismarck, Malibuites were treated to some old-fashioned “realpolitik” when a local politician challenged candidates to do little to no fundraising and eschew traditional campaign expenditures. She neglected to mention that the candidates she was personally supporting were exempt from that exhortation, and she was contributing the maximum funds allowable to their campaign coffers.
A number of local community activists publicly lauded the independents who said they wouldn’t tap into the politics-as-usual format, then didn’t do anything to aid their campaigns. Some of these activist groups and other would-be political players voiced support for four or five candidates for three seats, even though statistical probability virtually ensures that doing so means that none of them can win.
One group claiming to have hundreds to over a thousand supporters could have been a potent force in the election but wasn’t. Its leaders voiced support for nearly every candidate on the ballot so their bases would be covered whoever won. Going back into PoliSci 101 mode, issue constituencies tend to be fickle supporters who care more about what they want than how they get it. That is why this Saturday’s meeting of a number of local interest groups to explore whether there is the potential for some form of unity will be interesting to observe.
We should have a clearer picture of what the election results mean for municipal public policy in the weeks ahead. Why do I think there will be some real surprises?

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