Lessons From the TSPLOST Campaign

The TSPLOST campaign has been a fascinating and educational experience. Here are some of the lessons.

As I write this we are halfway through the voting day on Tuesday. I look forward to celebrating the defeat of the TSPLOST this evening, but I’m still apprehensive. 

We had to overcome an $8 million ad campaign promoting it, which is more money than Romney spent defeating Newt in Florida.

This has been a fascinating and educational campaign. Here are some of the lessons:

1. Grassroots activation is hard work.
The degree to which the general public is apathetic is frankly scary. The current generation of politicians depend on that apathy. If our country is to have any kind of future, we all must become much more engaged and active in the political arena. I participate in this and other political activities because I personally feel threatened by the direction our governments (federal and state) are taking us in.  We will not change that direction unless a far larger percentage of the electorate becomes engaged. 

2. Good guys are hard to find.
During the campaign we had many internal exchanges over whether or not this or that politician could be “trusted,” whether he had “lied” or whether his position was simply politically expedient. It would be nice if we could have a reliable test for honesty, integrity and frugality that we could subject them to. As it is, I have found that making moral judgements, positive or negative, about political people is very risky and error prone. For now, we have allies and opponents on an issue by issue basis, and there are no other reliable rules.
3. Everyone will never agree on everything.
Reaching consensus in a business environment is difficult enough. In a grassroots environment is it impossible. Given that, everyone willing to work and add something is of value and different volunteers bring different skill sets. Those who are willing to work the hardest and contribute the most generally end up as leaders.

4. The press is not our friend.
After numerous debates, speaking engagements, radio spots, on-camera and off-camera interviews and a press conference, I am now keenly aware of the incredible editing and manipulation done by most of the media. With the single exception of Christine Foster of the Roswell Patch, every member of the press with whom I had contact engaged in heavy editing in favor of the TSPLOST, normally by omitting the most salient facts in opposition. After reading their continual advocacy journalism, it was no surprise to discover that Cox Enterprises was a major contributor to the pro-TSPLOST campaign. PolitiFact coverage became a standing joke. The tortured logic used to create a “mostly false” conclusion on numerous anti-TSPLOST statements and a “mostly true” on pro-TSPLOST statements completely undermined the credibility of their platform. Watching local TV news is completely useless as a reliable source of information.

5. Business interests will always act in their own self-interest.
The chambers of commerce and the major corporate donors to the pro-TSPLOST campaign have a completely different agenda than the citizens. Cost-effective transportation solutions are a completely separate issue from the benefits of increased spending that they don’t have to pay for. They love a sales tax because they don’t have to pay it. The CTM campaign funding showed over $1.2 million in out-of-state contributions from companies with business interest in the projects proposed. They want us to raise our own taxes as citizens to benefit their businesses.

6. We have a long, long way to go as a state.
Prior to the 2012 legislative session I personally lobbied a number of high-level legislators to avoid the obvious disaster that HB277 had created. It will be a disaster if it passes and it will be a disaster if it fails. They should have headed it off in the last session. I was told that “the legislature just doesn’t have any appetite” for the issue. I sincerely hope the voting results can give our legislature an appetite for repealing the entire mess and putting a coherent plan in place.  More on that in a later article.

My sincerest appreciation goes out to the Transportation Leadership Coalition members who gave unbelievable time and effort to this campaign. The public faces are well known by now. We’ve been debating, speaking and interviewing incessantly. The behind-the-scenes volunteers who built and managed the TrafficTruth.net web site, the Facebook page, the Twitter account, and who coordinated the speaking engagements, distributed the signs, sent hundreds of thousands of e-mails and made phone calls all are deserving of the public’s thanks, as well as my personal thanks.

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Frank Jones August 02, 2012 at 01:48 PM
After reading the AJC this morning, I'm shaking my head with dis-belief! Why? Governor Deal stated that he does not support an increase in the gas tax or a hotel/motel tax to fund transportation projects. Really?!! Mr. Deal has his head stuck in the sand. There are road projects that need to be built. There isn't money currently available to build the projects and it is the Governments job, yes THEIR JOB, to oversee public works and RAISE TAXES when needed to fund those public works. Mr. Deal and his cronies were to afraid to raise taxes and opted instead for letting We The People to raise our own taxes...That failed! Mr. Deal doesn't support raising gas taxes, yet our gas taxes are relatively low and our cars are much more fuel efficient...Raise them, you have the power. Mr. Deal doesn't support using hotel/motel tax for transportation projects, but is more than willing to build a Billion $ stadium for a Billionaire using hotel/motel money?!! When will Georgia wake up and realize that it's legislators are incompetent?
TheEnergyGuy - Jon LaMonte August 02, 2012 at 01:51 PM
I actually find it interesting that several polls were taken around the state and the results were overwhelming against the T-SPLOST. In the end, the final vote came down almost identical to the poll results. Don't they look at these things ahead of time? What is the point of spending millions of dollars promoting a measure that no one wants?
Greg T August 02, 2012 at 04:22 PM
I'm curious about your comment about Gov. Deal refusing to raise taxes. What about the overwhelming 2 to 1 vote against the tax raising scheme did you not get? If Deal raised any taxes immediately after such a resounding public response, I'd say he was completely incompetent and arrogant for ignoring "the will of the people." Let's see what Deal does. The polls accurately portrayed the election results. The polls also said that taxpayers overwhelming distrust government. Let's see if Deal, or any elected official for that matter, takes our deepest concerns to heart by working to clean house and prove that they are worthy of any new taxes or trust.
Frank Jones August 02, 2012 at 08:57 PM
@Greg...I understand that a significant majority voted against T-Splost. I voted against T-Splost because it was the wrong funding mechanism for our traffic woes. That said, everyone agrees that there are traffic issues in dire need of real solutions. Real solutions will take tax revenue. So the only solution is to use the taxing authority that the State already has such as increasing Gas Taxes and Income Tax rates. Would Deal be incompetent and arrogant for ignoring "the will of the people"? No, not any more than he is already incompetent and arrogant. As Governor, and as Senators and Representations, our politicians have been elected to solve problems and provide public services using the tools they have at their disposal -- chiefly raise taxes when needed. When they shirk they're responsibilities because they're affraid of Grover Norquist and anti-tax/anti-Government Tea Party Patriots, they should be impeached, recalled or voted out of office. We need a Northern Arc. We need additional lanes along 75/575. We need 140 widened. We need State 20 widened. We need, need, need and increasing Gas Taxes and a small increase in state income taxes would provide the financial resources. Tolls and T-Splost aren't required.
Greg T August 03, 2012 at 02:53 PM
First off, the Norther Arc keeps getting killed by liberals inside the beltway because they want people riding trains instead of cars into "their" perimeter. Why are you demonizing conservatives when there was overwhelming consensus that went well beyond those you mentioned and into those you fail to mention. I understand it doesn't match your political gridlock mindset to give liberals some blame, so here we are without a plan. Go ahead and keep making this a left/right issue and continue to enjoy your gridlock on the road. Instead of blaming, you could actually take the consensus of over 70% of Georgians and get government to act responsively and stop lying to us, like the tolls on 400, the education dollars from the Lotto and others. Plus there are the already completed surveys and audits that have gone ignored, like the Atlanta Public Schools did for years until it finally came to bite them last year. At some point it becomes time to put away petty partisanship and actually work on what we all agree on. Please direct your ire at corruption instead of conservatives. Let's put Georgia ahead of politics. Getting rid of wasteful government spending would increase the budget for required government projects.


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