To paraphrase the great English playwright, William Shakespeare, “it is better to have fought and lost, than to never have fought at all.” That is certainly the way I feel in the aftermath of the SPLOST election. Those of us who are committed to the ideals of less government and more personal and economic freedom, silence and inaction is not an option when faced with a clear opportunity to advance those ideals, as was the case with the 2016 SPLOST.
So how was it that we lost? While our opponents will claim that the following explanation is “spin”, meaning that it is an excuse and/or rationalization for not prevailing at the polls, there are no doubt real and substantive reasons for the outcome, and lessons to be learned from it, which we ignore at our peril.
First and foremost was the huge disparity in financial resources SPLOST proponents had at their disposal. As in past SPLOST elections, after you factor in the $200,000 donated to the pro-SPLOST camp by the Cumberland and Town Center Community Improvement Districts (CIDs) for allegedly “educational” purposes, we were outspent by a ratio of approximately 100 to 1. Under the circumstances, we performed very well given the relative closeness of the vote.
With that kind of money, proponents were able to inundate tens of thousands of voters with literature and robo-calls that we could not match. In fact, most of these voters were only exposed to the pro-SPLOST arguments, which combined with the flowery language of the initiative on the ballot, led to many voting yes, who otherwise would not have done so. Other factors which worked for and reinforced this advantage were as follows:
- Despite our best efforts, most voters in Cobb were blissfully unaware of the trust factor that we emphasized in our campaign.
- After close to ten years of perpetual SPLOST people have become inured to it, and have come to believe that we can’t live without it.
- With their huge spending advantage, they were able to target their messages to clearly defined demographic constituencies such as republican and democratic.
Another question asked in the aftermath of the vote, was: “Why was the margin less close in a general election than it was in the previously called special elections?” I was one of those who thought that a general election would work in our favor because proponents would not have the advantage of targeting special interest voting blocks to skew the results. But in hindsight, we now know that in a general election, there was a preponderance of uninformed voters who are voting on it for the first time. And if all they got was the pro-SPLOST message, then they are going to vote accordingly.
During the campaign, indications that this would play a factor were evident, but there was really nothing we could have done about it. The first yellow light was a report in the MDJ that according to an Insider Advantage poll, the pro-SPLOST camp was in better shape than they had been in previous SPLOST campaigns one month out from the election. Then an MDJ on-line reader poll showed our side with only a 56 – 44% advantage. And that was before the pro-SPLOST direct mail and robo-call blitz the weekend before the election. This same poll in 2011 showed our side ahead by about a 70 – 30% ratio.
Nevertheless, I think all of us can hold our heads high and have no regrets on the way we conducted our campaign, other than the biggest one; i.e. that the SPLOST passed despite our best efforts. There are many things we were able to do in this campaign that we were not able to do in past campaigns and many unsung heroes that made them possible. The following are just a few examples, and my apologies in advance for anyone who I might have inadvertently left out:
- Jerry Palmer who organized and led sign waving activities at key locations throughout Cobb. One such event resulted in over a dozen volunteers waving signs at the Big Chicken, which was picked up and featured on Channel 2 Action News;
- Dr. Bill Hudson who raised the money for No-SPLOST t-shirts and electronic billboard messages which were displayed in four locations;
- Ben Hendricks who single handedly put up hundreds of yard signs;
- Christopher Harmon, a 13 year old freedom fighter who put up over 60 signs on his own;
Rosetta Stone Communications and The Atlanta Tea Party Patriots who together put out three robo-calls which reached out to many thousands of voters;
- Tommy Clayton, CTA board member and cobbtaxpayer.com webmaster who spent untold hours updating and putting information on our website;
- Jan Barton & Friends who organized literature distribution at numerous fairs and festivals throughout the County, and who also put together a power point presentation that was placed on our website and presented at public forums throughout the campaign;
- Sue Stanton, who out of her own pocket had thousands of NO-SPLOST business cards printed up and distributed;
- John Robinson who coordinated yard sign placements at various voting locations and provided invaluable assistance in debate coaching and preparation;
- Susan McCoy and Field Searcy who joined with me at an editorial board meeting at the MDJ, and added their personal insight and perspective on why voters should vote NO;
- Kim Strawn who on her own initiative put together compelling flyers and wrote, produced and directed a campaign video which will have enormous value to our efforts going forward;
- and finally to all of you who contributed money, showed up at debates and forums, wore our t-shirts, put up signs, wrote letters-to-the-editor, and participated in the many activities listed above.
My final reflection, as I drove my car and rode my motorcycle and bicycle throughout the County in the days following the election, was seeing the many lawn signs on the lawns of our fellow taxpayers, from opulent residences in East Cobb to modest dwellings in the South; people of all races, ages and income levels joining together unafraid to declare to their friends, family and neighbors that they opposed this SPLOST and the abuse of trust that it represents in the hands of our elected leaders.
This outpouring of support was in stark contrast to the pro-SPLOST campaign where I did not see so much as one of their signs on a private lawn, for their campaign is predicated on enriching the special interests at our expense, and that is not an appeal which motivates individuals to stand up and be counted. Their support is broad but shallow, whereas ours is broad and deep, and for that I take solace.
So Where Do We Go From Here?
The good news is we do not have to spend our time and efforts on another SPLOST campaign for another eight years, and I am looking forward to tackling my honey do list, which unlike the 2016 SPLOST, does not lack specificity, and has no “To be determined” items on it. But thanks to our County Chairman and the determined support of the Cobb Chamber, the Braves and Cobb’s Director of Transportation, we face the prospect of another effort to get the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project imposed on us via a bond referendum in March of 2016. This can be prevented if we can convince three of the five commissioners to vote against putting it on the ballot. However, Tim Lee and Commissioner-elect Bob Weatherford are already on record as supporting it, so we have our work cut out for us.
In this regard, it is interesting to note that one of the arguments for the SPLOST was that it would avoid incurring any bond indebtedness. But the same cabal that used that argument are also the ones that foisted $400 million in bond debt for the Braves Stadium, and will not hesitate to do it again with the BRT. And they feel emboldened with passage of the SPLOST, and Clayton County’s vote to expand MARTA.
In case you are scratching your head and asking why anyone would support a mass transit project that will do nothing to relieve traffic congestion and will actually make it worse — at huge capital expense and ongoing operating expense amounting to millions a year — consider the following:
- There is a lot of money to be made by those who own land or who are in a position to buy land adjacent to the 10 planned BRT transit stations.
- There is a lot of money to be made by the contractors and consultants who would build this half a billion dollar project.
- The Cobb Chamber looks with covetous eyes on the relative success of the Perimeter Mall vs. Cumberland and Town Center. They attribute that success to MARTA and believe BRT will do the same for them.
- The Braves, the County and the Chamber know that the new stadium will burden the County with huge and inadequately planned for traffic and parking issues, and believe BRT will be the solution.
- The Braves are anxious to make good on their “promise” of $400 million in mixed use development around the stadium, and are looking to the BRT as their panacea. They also know that such promises have not been kept when similar public/private partnerships have been consummated with other sports venues throughout the country. We only have to look as far as Gwinnett County to see how empty these promises are.
Yet despite the powerful forces that will be harnessed to get the BRT passed, the spendaholics face the same daunting task with BRT that they faced with the Transportation SPLOST in Cobb County two years ago. Moreover, a year and a half is a lifetime when it comes to politics, and a lot can happen in the intervening 17 months. For now, let’s rejoice with our families and friends as we head into the holiday season, and be grateful for the blessings that we still have as citizens of this great country.
With warmest personal regards,
Lance Lamberton, Chairman
Cobb Taxpayers Association