Now Reading
Message to GOP: Play the game before you claim you are victims of it

From the archive: This story is more than 5 years old.

What the Devil won't tell you

Message to GOP: Play the game before you claim you are victims of it

Tucson's election system isn't rigged, you just gotta try

  • Adrian Maidment/Flickr

Democrats cruised, if not necessarily roared, to a sweep in the Tucson City Council elections. For the third consecutive election, all the Republican candidates woke up saying it's not over til it's over and went to bed knowing it was over and they were done.

I can already hear it: City-wide elections are bad for democracy. Conservative East Side voters are the victims of Jim Crow laws. Republicans in Tucson are disenfranchised. Tucson only votes party-line. Voters only look at the party and the GOP has no hope.

I say to those voices: Bite me.

Let's review the game film. C'mon, Tucson Republicans let's … let's talk about what just happened. Yeah, all of you. Frank Antenori, Christine Bauserman, legislative district chairs, dudes with the NRA hats, birthers, Sandy Hook Truthers, moderates, Tea Partiers and all you Jon Justice listeners. C'mon. Gather round. We need to talk. 

First off, it's really easy to just say the candidates were bad, but I find it very hard to criticize first-time contenders who throw their names on a ballot for how they fared. No joke. That's something, and they deserve credit for doing what 45,000 other Republicans would not.

Your party chairman, Bill Beard, helped recruit serious candidates. Margaret Burkholder sat on the Vail School District Governing Board and helped that district turn itself around. She could have been trouble for five-term incumbent Shirley Scott. You had Kelly Lawton, an administrator with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and ties to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base — he could have been murder on Paul Cunningham, who was seeking his second full term. You had Bill Hunt, another former fly boy who wasn't exactly a juggernaut but he beats former GOP offerings Shaun McClusky and Jennifer Rawson. He could have made the race hard on Regina Romero, who was seeking her third term but has never once faced a Republican on the ballot.

In fact, at the end of the day the Republican trio lost by probably 8 to 12 points depending on how the uncounted ballots shake out as the count continues. They didn't do badly.

They just needed help. That means all of you GOPers.

You had a city ranked low nationally in household income struggling to overcome the recession and with economic development efforts that have delivered questionable results. To make things even easier, to open up the election season you had a bus strike that the City Council failed to see coming and took too long to help settle.

This year, you had a leave-me-alone electorate that ought to have been your kindred spirits. Bonds failed. Traffic cameras are no more.

As Beard said at the GOP election-night party: "I think our guys had the better arguments." The question is, he said, "has that permeated with the voters?"

I'm willing to wager some tempura for a California roll that, when none of your candidates could raise more than $17,000, the answer to that question is, "Oh good mother of God, no."

The real deficit

You gotta break open the bank, people. Democrats hold a voter registration edge of about two to one. They've got about 93,149. You have 45,625 registered voters affiliating themselves with you. But that wasn't the deficit that destroyed you because the 77,548 independents tend to break big your way when given a reason. What killed you was how together Democrats raised about $275,000, and that doesn't count the $118,000 an unopposed Mayor Johnathan Rothschild tallied. Throw that figure into the mix and you were out-raised 9 to 1.

That's how you lost. You needed to get to independents. That costs money and you didn't have it. What am I saying? You are Republicans. Of course you had it. You just didn't spend it. 

This is even more inexcusable because in city elections the money raised is effectively capped at $110,000 per Council candidate, which includes a dollar-for-dollar match from the city. So the Democrats received about half of what they would spend by simply submitting paperwork to the City Clerk's Office. Yeah, you had to raise just $165,000 for all three races and came up $119,240 short. How did the Democrats do it? How did you not? They worked harder. That's how. Or are you telling me there aren't 800 Republicans in Tucson who aren't $200 worth of angry?

Sure seems like it. You bitch about the City Council. You bitch about the business climate. You bitch about dysfunction. You bitch about crime. You bitch about the streets. Yet you can't put together a decent campaign. Here's what one looks like:

  1. Find candidates.
  2. Raise money.
  3. Develop a message and then get the message out to voters.
  4. Repeat the message. For that you need money. Raise some more.
  5. Find volunteers to identify and persuade sympathetic voters, whom you will get out to vote. Then get them out to vote, as you raise more money.

In the absence of steps 2-5, don't bother with step one. If you follow through with all of them, the eight-point swing you needed to win looks much more swing-able.

You have to try to win before you complain the game is fixed. You have to run for election before you say you can't win. Gang, when you try, you do well. You elected a mayor three times in a row. You elected Fred Ronstadt and Kathleen Dunbar. Then you ran into a buzz saw post-Katrina in November 2005 as Iraq seemed to come apart at the seams, but you came back in 2009, put Steve Kozachik in office and damned near had Ben Buehler-Garcia alongside him. At that time, you raised more than $100,000 for them and they got about that much in matching funds.

Is this money in politics thing new to you?

Somewhere along the way you stopped trying and started to bathe in the fires of party purity. You ran off county party chair Brian Miller for criticizing sheriff's deputies use of deadly force (never mind that it was under a Democratic sheriff) and then chased off Kozachik.

You are like the smart kid in middle school who won't try and then complains he's being treated unfairly because he's from Togo.

If you are going to tell those kids born in the worst of circumstances they can make it if they try, you owe it to them to show that you are trying to make it.

Instead what we hear from you is a drumbeat of victimization as you try to get the federal government to fix the problem you won't fix for yourselves. 'Scuse me. Don't you generally oppose that sort of thing?

Victim politics and Jim Crow

You have sued the city to change the election system and now that case is in the hands of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. We await the decision. During arguments in August, your lawyer kept referring to political minorities as if being a Republican in Tucson is the same as being an African-American in Selma, Alabama, circa 1958. When asked directly if he had a claim the Justice Department should know about vis-a-vis discrimination, he said “no” because the judges would laugh him out of the room. Yet here in Tucson, we hear Selma had city-wide elections too! They also used threats, intimidation and good old fashioned violence to keep African Americans from voting.

But we hear that, too. City-wide elections for the council are akin to Jim Crow laws because they disenfranchise East Side Republicans.

No one is murdering you and burying your bodies under earthen dams to keep Regina Romero on the City Council.

And as long as I'm on the subject, stop with the victimization pretty much all around, seeing as you so deplore the trait in others.

You are victims of city-wide elections. You are victims of gays who want to marry, so you sue to continue to discriminate under the guise of a religious freedom under attack. You are the victims of the poor, who took all the middle class money and bought stuff those Walton kids are nice enough to keep at their place.

You are victims of affronts that exist only in your heads, like the government coming to take your guns away when it's never even been discussed on any sort of level that may lead to action. There is no voter fraud but you are such victims of it that I couldn't vote this year for the want of an extra $75 to get a copy of a birth certificate and a new ID. You are victims of a socialist plot to destroy free enterprise in America as if American streets aren't cheek to jowl with businesses of all sorts. You are the victims of “Black Lives Matter” because you take it to mean whites don't (oh holy cats, seriously?). What would a list of conservative victimization look like if I didn't include “the liberal media establishment” that dares to cross-examine your assumptions.

I'm the liberal media! I wrote you a flipping game plan! If you can't boil the sorry state of Tucson's economy and a 42-day bus strike down to “Jobs, failure and accountability” there's no help for you. It really wasn't that hard.

Victimhood suggests a denial of that which you are entitled. Just what are Tucson Republicans entitled to if you won't help yourselves?

Billboards, you can not be serious

Nowhere in my game plan or any other former or current political pro's handbook would you find the word “billboard.”

Seriously, you had $50,000 in dark money from the charmingly acronymed Foundation for Responsible Accountable Government, filtered through Revitalize Tucson, and they spent it on billboards? Don't tell me. Let me guess. Someone at Clear Channel's billboard sales department told you it was “can't miss.”

I got two words for you: Media buyer. Had you hired one, after they threw up in their mouth a little at the idea that your single biggest “messaging” expense would be billboards, they would have told you about a contraption called a television. For the $49,563 Revitalize Tucson raised primarily for sky litter, you could have pulverized the city with your message of “jobs, accountability and failure.”

See, Republicans aren't known for their field operation and frankly, a field op is good for about five points in added votes if it's run well. It's the short yardage game and the two-tight-end formation with the bashing running back in a beast mode. You need to put the ball in the air to win because you are facing a 10-0 deficit when you first touch the ball. You gotta get aggressive and that means TV, and TV means money.

A billboard is a punt on first down.

Get 'er done!

A field operation would be nice though.

It just requires hard work.

Here's an investment  for all you financial types who say Democrats don't know business: Invest in a brand-new autodialer and a field director to help make sure headquarters is packed with volunteers. That way you can identify your voters, persuade them to action and then make sure they vote.

I actually think that a couple Republicans on the City Council could be good for the city and help spur the Democrats into action. I actually believe that conservatives have good points to make and make liberals smarter. It's completely anecdotal but I know more than a few libs who would have willingly voted for Republicans if they knew more about them.

Here's where you come in, all you Republicans. Democrats can't typically message their way out of a paper bag at the wholesale level but retail, they are great at it. Their field operations kick the GOP's up and down the street because the D's know the most effective form of messaging is neighbor-to-neighbor. It's just really labor intensive.

Money is one thing. Labor is another. You have to get involved. You have to get your hands dirty. You have to talk to your neighbors. Hey — you have to talk to strangers.

Tucson is a Democratic town, sure (so don't say it's the Democrat Party — the faux ignorant gag is cute only to you guys) and the Republican Party has grown more pure, shall we say. So you have to convince people that purity isn't scary but that you mean good things for Tucson. It would also help greatly if you buried the hatchet with one another to rally toward a noble cause. The Rove Rule isn't so bad: “Find the most conservative Republican who can win.”

See, none of this is hard. It's just hard work. But it is harder for Republicans to win in Tucson than Democrats, which means you have to work harder. I thought you bought into that. Yes? No? Maybe?

Or maybe you were just waiting for Jim Click. In the past, the benefactor for the GOP has come through big. Not this time. Why should he? He's a good conservative who believes in helping those who help themselves.

In this round, Click joined the broad (although not deep enough) coalition backing the Pima County bonds. He put his money down on that square for this spin of the wheel.

Maybe if the Republican rank-and-file, the folks with an axe to grind, showed they were willing to wet the wheel and grind the axe, Click would have paid for the handle (or an autodialer). Democrats have sugar parents too. Bill Roe and Pam Grissom donate quite a bit but the rest of the Dems kick in as well. This is how they raise that thing called money you need for what is known as a campaign.

The final tallies won't likely look that bad considering how badly you were out-raised. So imagine an alternate reality where you put your money where your yaps are when it comes to Tucson, your values and your belief that no one is entitled to anything.

Until you answer this question with deeds and have foregone the status of victimhood, you are just victims of your own self-fulfilling prophecy.

Blake Morlock covered Arizona government and politics for 15 years, including 11 in the Tucson Citizen. He also worked on Democratic Party campaigns in the field of political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.

— 30 —

Top headlines

Best in Internet Exploder