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Our Turn: What education voters taught us

November 6th, 2015

By:  Robert Johnson and Paul Bentz

From the Arizona Republic:

Campaign consultants: Voters upended conventional wisdom in this week’s school bond and override elections.

Voters in two Valley school districts taught us a lesson on Election Day this week, upending conventional wisdom about early ballots and reminding us again that every vote really does count.

Since the advent of convenient voting by mail, campaign consultants have led their clients to storm voters’ mailboxes a month before Election Day, focusing money and campaign literature on quickly piling up votes from reliable, older voters.

But in the Dysart and Peoria budget override elections, it was the last-minute voters, those who delivered their early ballots to polling places, or those that just walked in to vote on Tuesday, who carried the day and appear to have prevented massive teacher layoffs, program cuts and general mayhem in these two sprawling West Valley school districts.

Whereas Dysart was losing by a thousand votes and Peoria was only winning by five votes when early ballots were counted, both rallied to win on the strength of Election Day turnout, teaching us a few lessons about these important local contests.

Lesson 1: Voting matters

First, if you still believe voting doesn’t matter, it’s time to think again. The future of Dysart’s public schools turned on several dozen “yes” votes, out of more than 27,000 ballots cast, at last count. Peoria’s margin was a little better. Regardless, if you took the time to vote Tuesday, you pretty much saved the day.

Lesson 2: Don’t coast at the end

Second, if we want to win, we need to work hard all the way to Election Day. Too often, campaigns think they are done two or three weeks after early ballots land on voters’ doorsteps. They’ve spent most of their money and believe the people who are going to vote have already done so.

Some campaigns have been known to consider shutting down a full week before the election! Indeed 80 percent of voters cast early ballots, but if you hope to claim victory, you must campaign all the way to the end.

Lesson 3: Partisans don’t rule everything

Third, we discovered what parents and those voters not chained to partisan ideology are able to achieve when faced with these kinds of ballot questions. We have always thought families and younger voters could effect change in local elections if they only made time to vote. We think they proved us right this week.

Separate from the voters, we learned something from opponents who launched their own efforts to sink school district proposals. We don’t believe opposition to school district elections ever has been as organized as it was this time. We would be wise to expect “no” voters to work even harder in future elections and prepare accordingly.

The voters took us to school and taught us there’s much to learn about winning their support. Meanwhile, public school children were the big winners.

Robert Johnson and Paul Bentz are campaign consultants at Highground Public Affairs in Phoenix. They managed pro-education campaigns in the Dysart and Peoria school districts this year.

Majority Illusion

October 12th, 2015

There is a very interesting article in the Washington Post regarding group dynamics and political perception.  It focuses on the “Majority Illusion” and how global perception of an issue can be dictated by how the individual believes other people feel about it.

Author Kevin Schaul summarizes, “…our flawed perception of some networks that relies a logical proverb: We just don’t know what we don’t know.  And in some networks, the information we do have, our sliver of local knowledge, can lead us to the false conclusion.”  Click here to read the article.

The article uses a fairly benign example of a small town and their consideration of baseball caps as a fashionable item.  However, one can easily see how the example can be translated to larger public policy items among “small groups” of elected officials.  The contrast between perception and reality is instructive on how many political decisions are made among like minded individuals driven by their perception of what the majority thinks.

In politics, elected officials typically act based on what they perceive to be the “majority” opinion – which is often driven by precinct committee meetings or interactions with the primary voting electorate.  These opinions can be counter to the majority of the electorate and often serve as a main reason behind fierce partisanism.  The result is dissatisfaction in the political system and a perception that nothing ever gets done.

What’s the solution?  As the article says, “Polling is an effective antidote to the majority illusion.”

We here at HighGround are firm believers in strategies driven by data and tactics developed from experience.  Not only do we help our clients get to the bottom of how the public feels about a particular issue, we help them understand how to talk about it.  Click here to learn more.

HighGround has more than a decade of experience in determining and measuring statewide, regional, and local voter behavior.  If you want to impact public policy, run for office, make a difference, or conquer the majority illusion, we can help you with the first step – accurate, strategic survey data.  Let us know how we can help you.

Preserving History

September 29th, 2015

“We believe the home is the embodiment of Arizona exceptionalism. It is part of what makes Phoenix a uniquely American experience.”

– Former Phoenix Mayors Terry Goddard, Paul Johnson, Skip Rimsza, Phil Gordon

Sometimes it’s hard to look past the daily struggles and disagreements of modern discourse to recognize when bigger things are at work. And so it goes with the ongoing discussion regarding the future of the David and Gladys Wright House.

Through the meetings, the discussions, and the applications, one thing is clear – at the heart of this issue is the protection of Phoenix’s history. This point is captured perfectly by the Arizona Republic yesterday as they opined, once again, in favor of the preservation of the David and Gladys Wright House.

In this case, the state’s largest newspaper has spoken out in support of granting the David and Gladys Wright House and its surrounding property a landmark status designation and lauding owner Zach Rawling’s efforts. The editorial explains, “In Frank Lloyd Wright’s vernacular, a house is never just a house. It is an organic part of its surroundings. With this house, that had been lost until Rawling restored it.” Click here to read the editorial.

Therein lies the heart of the historic preservation application – Over the past two years, the Foundation has taken steps to restore the original scale of the 10 acre site to preserve the environment that the home organically springs from. In fact, as depicted below, the citrus groves historically growing on the lot north of the property were hand-drawn by the famous architect into his schematic plan, indicating that the trees on the north lot were part of his original design concept. The concept was a “castle in the air” floating above a sea of citrus tree’s which he referred to as “David’s lawn”.

Hand drawing of the property

While there are ongoing discussions and concerns from handful of neighbors regarding the Foundation’s proposed uses of the property, there should be no doubt that the property meets the criteria for historic preservation. Like the Arizona Republic, we hope that these issues can be resolved to reach the same conclusion:

“The neighbors’ fear is the entirely human fear of the unknown. We hope they can get past it and see Rawling’s efforts for what they are: a celebration of the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright in one of the three greatest houses he designed. The landmark designation for all 6 acres is highly merited.”

You can read the full editorial by clicking here, and you can read the entire Historic Application by clicking here.

The Next Step For Roosevelt Row

September 22nd, 2015

Since 1999, HighGround has been a presence on Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row and has been a part of its transformational development over the past decade and a half. Our President & CEO Chuck Coughlin moved the company to its historic house on 4th Avenue and Roosevelt and has since invested time, money and support to helping the neighborhood grow. Chuck serves on the Board of the Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation and works with community and business leaders to continue RoRo’s growth.

Recently, he sat down with the Downtown Phoenix Journal to discuss the creation of a Business Investment District (BID) to attract more visitors to Roosevelt Row. You can read the article HERE.

In addition to frequenting the dozens of shops and restaurants around Roosevelt Row, we encourage all of you to join us at the 4th Annual Chile Pepper Festival this Saturday from 4pm to 11pm at the Phoenix Public Market. Admission is free and the event will feature many of the area’s most popular chefs and artists. You can read more about the event HERE on Roosevelt Row’s website.

The Millennial Case for Proposition 104

August 12th, 2015

By: Drew Sexton

I vividly remember my first weekend as a new student at the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus in 2008, and not just because of the 110-degree temperatures during move-in day. As proud as I was to be a Sun Devil at the brand new CronkiteSchool, the urban environment I was exploring paled in comparison to the vibrant downtown Seattle area I had grown up near.

The few shops and restaurants around were closed at 8pm, rundown buildings dotted the streets and any real places to gather seemed miles away. The exciting main campus of Tempe felt like it was a whole state away for a bunch of freshman without a car, leaving us to wonder if we’d get a “real” college experience on this isolated campus.

Fortunately, it was only a semester before the Valley Metro light rail opened up and things changed for our campus. With increased access for commuter students and a direct route to Tempe, slowly but surely, ASU Downtown evolved into the energetic community it is today. With the completion of CityScape and the future Sandra Day O’Conner Law School scheduled to open in the coming years, Downtown Phoenix has become a desirable place to go to school, eat, shop and hang out. It has turned into an anchor for the kind of urban environment that promotes and trains the Valley’s future workforce.

I was proud to live on the Downtown Phoenix campus for 3 years and share with new students how easy it was to get to a Diamondbacks game, tour the PhoenixArt Museum or HeardMuseum, or take the light rail for a trip to Target. My 3 years there were better than getting a “real” college experience; they were the foundation for creating a new, unique 21st century college experience that thousands of Arizonans are excited to be a part of every semester.

I bring this up because I know this wouldn’t have happened without Phoenix’s commitment to the light rail and its impact on Millennials, which is a key part of why Phoenix voters should vote Yes on Proposition 104.  Robert Robb doesn’t agree – calling this concept the “Peter Pan theory of Millennials.”  The problem is Mr. Robb doesn’t take into account one of the biggest factors impacting our future: education.

Our state has been in the midst of an important conversation on improving education and access to good schools and universities for Arizonans. We need to ensure that our students have access to quality education to become the trained workforce we need to attract businesses and economic opportunities.  But access to education isn’t just about tuition costs; it can also include literal transit access to campuses.

When it comes to education, there is very little that our cities and towns can do to directly improve the system.  However, transportation is one of the areas where they can have an impact.  One-third of transit riders are students, which shows that a high quality public transit system is a must for our children’s future.  Low-income, aspiring students shouldn’t be forced to decide between buying a car and parking pass to get to class or paying tuition.

One of the reasons I stayed in the Central Phoenix area after college is because of the commitment shown by our elected leaders to transportation, education, and a new urban experience. Instead of moving out to a distant suburb where housing prices are much cheaper per square foot, the idea of an exciting urban community was worth the extra dollars for me. Many Millennials feel the same way about transportation and access to education and the importance of investments in those areas. We’re not just a bunch of “Lost Boys.”  We are a growing workforce that choose to live, work, and spend our time in the urban core.

The light rail is a great, cost-effective investment not just for Millennials and our public transportation system but for the future of education in our city. Prop. 104 builds on that investment and should have our support.