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Reflecting on Turnout

November 11th, 2014

As the final ballots are being counted, it appears that the total turnout for the 2014 General Election will be a little over 1.5 million votes. The turnout percentage of 47.1% is higher than our estimate from last week, but still lower than any other General Election with the exception of 1998. In fact, nearly 225,000 fewer voters turned out for this election than the Gubernatorial Cycle in 2010.

Early Ballot returns showed a significant gap in the age of the returns. In fact, nearly 79% of the early ballots returned before Election Day were over the age of 50. The returns will get younger when all is said and done, but clearly younger voters stayed away. Now, more than a year ago, we had predicted that somewhere between 1.8 and 1.9 million people would show up. That was based on a competitive gubernatorial race (check), competitive congressional races (check), and the uptick in participation in 2010. As it turns out, it wasn’t meant to be. So, why did younger voters stay home? People are trying to point to a single culprit, but the fact is, there are several:

In the final two weeks of the election, you would have been hard pressed to find a single candidate campaign that was running a positive television ad. Even the commercials that were meant to soften up a candidate often contained a comparison or an attack on their opponent. This was definitely one of the most negative cycles in recent history which sends younger and undecided voters running for the hills.

On the national media side, you had everyone predicting a major Republican wave which definitely removes the motivation to participate from other parties and unaffiliated voters. The local media, while it did try to devote some attention to policy related issues, most of the candidates did not oblige them here, so story after story tended to focus on the horse race rather than on substance. We’re not really blaming the media here for not covering issues, the candidates simply didn’t get them much substance to cover. If you were in the lead, there was little to no motivation to go to the media because everyone knew that you are basically going to end up donating half of any story to your opponent.

Desperate Emails
Campaigns and Elections hit on this one yesterday. Campaign emails have been a part of the landscape for many years. However, this was the first year where the majority of the emails felt desperate and gimmicky. Daily begging for cash with outlandish headlines and lower case subject lines tuned voters out and lead to less engagement and even less focus on the issues. The Ducey campaign definitely does deserve credit for conducting a priorities survey email, but it is a single bright spot in a sea of aggressive emails, particularly from the congressional candidates.

President Obama officially became the Chuck Norris/Bill Brasky of American politics. At this point, there is no claim about Obama that hasn’t already been made. You name it, it’s Obama’s fault. The President was the centerpiece of most attacks on Democrats. Instead of younger voters flocking to defend their president, they stayed home.

Most voters never thought they would be so happy to see Christmas ads in November. You couldn’t watch any major show or the news without wall to wall campaign ads. Ominous music and grainy pictures filled our TVs – building and negating credibility over each commercial break. After awhile, it definitely becomes noise. The more political commercials are lumped together, the less convincing they become.

Rural Arizona
Diane Douglas lost Maricopa, Pima, and Coconino Counties and still managed to win statewide office. Yuma County, Yavapai County, Mojave County and the rest are a force to reckon with. While they are often taken for granted, it only accentuates the need for campaigns to focus on the whole of the state and not just the metro areas.

Dark Money
A record amount of money was spent Arizona. The media liked to spend a lot of time talking about it and who might be behind it (often using “poured” in the headline for whatever reason). However, the media did very little to cover what the dark money was actually saying. There are a lot of people saying that Dark Money is the biggest reason why democrats lost, but we’re not 100% convinced. Most voters could not tell the difference between the ads and direct mail done by the candidate vs. what was done by dark money. This added to the general “lumping” of political ads which had an overall cooling effect on participation. Candidates definitely benefitted from dark money, but it was less about the content of the attacks and more about the negativity it brought to the election.

Unless something is done about it, dark money is here to stay. It will likely be an even bigger player in the upcoming presidential cycle. Turnout is supposed to be higher in these years, will someone be able to motivate the younger voters to return to the polls or is this negativity that drives down turnout the new normal?

The irrational thing about the negativity of this cycle is that we still live in the greatest Country the world has ever seen, but by the tenor of the media, you would think we were living in some third world country.

Certainly, the next cycle will be driven by an aspirational agenda of the next occupant to occupy the White House. If it doesn’t, our political process might actually join the ranks of other third world countries.


Election Recap Notebook

November 6th, 2014

Borrowing a page out of our favorite conservative columnist Bob Robb’s notebook, here are some quick takes following this Tuesday’s General Election.

2014 1,343,000(approx) 41.5%(approx)
2012 2,323,579 74.4%*
2010 1,750,882 55.7%
2008 2,320,851 77.7%*
2006 1,553,032 60.5%
2004 2,038,069 77.1%*
2002 1,255,615 56.3%
2000  1,559,520 71.8%*
1998 1,037,550 45.8%
1996 1,431,342 63.8%*
1994 1,153,742 55.6%
1992 1,516,276 77.2%*
1990 1,094,735 58.9%

Low Turnout
The 2014 election will be remembered for its historically low turnout. It is on track to have a turnout percentage lower than any general election since at least 1974 (and likely longer).  In fact, 1998 was the only other election in the past 30 years to have a turnout under 50%. It would be hard to call such abysmal turnout a mandate.

Young Voters
The fact is, younger voters stayed away from this election in droves. Some will point to the negative campaigning and record setting dark money as the culprit. Others will argue that there was very little for young voters to be “for” in this election. As Bob Robb pointed out, the irony is that DuVal had a chance to articulate ideas to set up a “competing future.” By taking all tax possibilities off the table, he did very little to set himself apart and failed to articulate any new, big ideas. Procurement reform wasn’t going to cut it.

McCain Rides Again
Speaking of big ideas, with the Republican takeover over the Senate moving Senator McCain into the chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee, it should be considered a lock that he will run for another term. He has always been a great campaigner over the years and we expect him to jump in with the energy he had when he first went after the seat in 1986. We’re excited at the prospect of him offering up some big ideas to make a bigger tent and offering up solutions to problems to attract the larger audience that show up in Presidential cycles.

Budget Watch
Who will take the lead on next year’s budget? The Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting have said that they are putting things together for the NEXT Governor. So, expect the next budget coming out of OSPB to be the start of a “Ducey” budget, not a “Brewer” budget. Don’t expect Governor Brewer to offer up a budget. The General Election also made the GOP majority in the Arizona State Senate even more lockstep in their budget approach – expect a strong push from the Senate for a budget filled with significant further spending reductions. According to JLBC, the FY2010 total operating expenditures were $9.8 billion and are $9.1 billion for FY2015 signed by Governor Brewer. Speaking of a budget, the Courts have already ordered the state to fund education at a higher level and Arizona’s State Land Trust remains a largely untapped resource for development to fund education.

Now what?
With the failure of Proposition 487, it’s time to go back to the drawing board on pension reform. It’s a problem that faces more than just Phoenix, so here’s hoping they take a broader approach. It’s up to public safety, the unions, and others to get together and articulate a plan that can help solve this problem. We fully understand what they are against – this is their chance to share some big ideas of their own and talk about what they are “for.”

Elected or Appointed?
Is this the beginning of the end of Superintendent of Public instruction as an elected position? According to the National Association of State Boards of Education, Arizona is only one of 14 states to elect their Superintendent of Public Instruction. In fact, 18 are appointed by their respective Governor, 23 are appointed by their state board of education, and three use other methods. Any bets on when that measure makes it to the ballot?

Nice Guys Finish First
In a campaign cycle filled with negativity, Peoria Council candidate Bridget Binsbacher chose to run a positive campaign and was rewarded as the top vote getter. She was the subject of a half dozen hit pieces, but voters saw through the shenanigans and gave her the top spot – a full 10 points higher than her closest competitor. She now faces a run-off that has stretches all the way to March due to the well publicized ballot printing issues. We wish her luck and are excited to help her keep the positivity going.

One Star for Center for Arizona Policy – Truth Watch!

October 31st, 2014

Some of us who live in the Central Phoenix area recently received a direct mail piece that even made our jaded political souls chuckle. With that in mind we decided to publish our very own truth watch….

While we have often been frustrated with the “Pollyannaish” nature of the Republic’s truth watch, their mission of “Keeping Arizona Honest” is a valiant one.

It is in that spirit that we have decided to fact check the Center for Arizona Policy for their latest statement in support of Shawnna Bolick running for the Arizona House in LD 28.


While the Center for Arizona Policy (CAP) has a fine tradition of valiantly protecting “preborn children,” the imagery associated with the quote is not that of a child in a mother’s womb. No, that is a child most definitely post birth – and a really cute one at that!

In the mailer, Cathi Herrod, President of Center for Arizona Policy, says, “we need leaders who will stand up for the most vulnerable in our society.”

So is a child in a mother’s womb part of our society? There may be some room for debate here, like the last 40 years or so, but from Mrs. Herrod’s point of view that preborn child is definitely part of her business, err… society.

So, the quote is paired with a picture of a baby – not a preborn child, if they had the picture of a child in a mother’s womb, the HighGround truth watch would have had not trouble with that. The quote and the picture however, do not match. That’s a one star reduction.

Now, to be clear, babies outside the mother’s womb are still some of our most vulnerable members of “society.” Particularly vulnerable are children born to families who mostly do not live in Ms. Bolick’s Legislative District 28 – Paradise Valley, Scottsdale, Arcadia – or are dues paying members of the Center for Arizona Policy.

When it comes to CAP however, if you are in the womb, you are truly blessed with their favor and support. However, once you are born – particularly if you are from a low income demographic or don’t happen to attend the right church – you are most definitely on your own.

One only needs to look back to Medicaid Restoration to see how much CAP really cares about the “most vulnerable.” During the debate, Center for Arizona Policy did not support restoration. When Governor Brewer, the most pro-life governor ever in the history of Arizona, claimed that being “pro-life” meant taking care of all of the most vulnerable in our society, CAP balked.

Additionally, in an even more ironic twist of fate, CAP also ignored the “will of the voters” argument for restoration (Prop. 204 in 2000), only to roll it out when it more suited their ideological leanings during the recent court decisions about gay marriage.

At the end of the day, CAP was more than willing to allow 63,000 Arizonans, including 5,000 cancer patients in the middle of treatment, to be removed from AHCCCS when the federal authority was set to expire. They were also willing to cut off healthcare for over 10,000 of our veterans who had returned from war and were not yet receiving their VA benefits. We would argue, along with Governor Brewer, that these Arizonan’s certainly were some of the “most vulnerable members of our society.”

So in addition to a one star reduction misleading imagery, we must also unfortunately take another two stars away for the hypocrisy of saying that CAP supports policies which protect the “most vulnerable members of our society”.

If we knew the income demographic or the political affiliation of the parents of the baby featured in the ad, there is a chance that this statement could end up with Zero stars. However, with the information we have at this time, we have no choice but to give Center for Arizona Policy’s statement ONE STAR.

They do care deeply for preborn children.

Acting Big

October 10th, 2014

“Rhetoric is a poor substitute for action, and we have trusted only to rhetoric. If we are really to be a great nation, we must not merely talk; we must act big.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Time and again, the citizens of Arizona have proven that they want a government that actually works.  From Proposition 100 that balanced our budget to Medicaid restoration, the voters have stood up for an effective government that takes action to solve problems – one that acts in the public interest and serves the people of this great State.

In each of these challenges, there has been a lot of “small” talk – the same old rhetoric that drives the “do nothing” narrative.  It appeals to a small portion of the electorate, but it never seems to grow, because rhetoric is indeed a poor substitute for action.  A majority of Arizonans aren’t buying what they’re selling now – no matter how they package up their tired rhetoric.

Once again, voters have the opportunity to act in the public interest, this time by supporting our only public hospital by voting Yes on Proposition 480.

Since before Arizona was even a state, our public hospital was taking care of those most in need in Maricopa County. Today, Maricopa Integrated Health System is providing quality, affordable health care to everyone who enters their doors.  MIHS provides level one trauma care for adults and children, the Arizona Burn Center, and clinics in the underserved areas of Maricopa County.

There are countless reasons to support Proposition 480, but there are three key issues that demonstrate why MIHS is a significant part of the solution to our community health care challenges, not part of the problem:

First, treatment for the mentally ill.  MIHS is largest provider of help for the seriously mentally ill and the only provider of court ordered mental health evaluations.  This year’s resolution of the long-standing Arnold v. Sarn litigation, which challenged the State’s support for the SMI population, is directly tied to our community’s continued support for programs that serve this population.  Each day police officers and fire fighters are on the front line of this problem and it’s clear that they need help.  Adequate treatment for the mentally ill helps public safety and improves our quality of life.  Proposition 480 will help expand and improve treatment for those patients with mental illness.

Second, MIHS is our largest teaching hospital.  We have a critical shortage of medical professionals.  Maricopa Medical Center is the only teaching hospital and it needs to keep up with our region’s demand.  MIHS trains over 400 doctors a year with over 75% of them staying here in Arizona to continue their careers.  Ask your doctor or nurse where they received their training, they are very likely to say MIHS.  No other provider could pick up that slack.

Finally, the fiscal implications of MIHS on the state budget.  As Republic Columnist Bob Robb mentioned in his column on 10/8, as the public hospital, MIHS earns approximately $90 million in federal dollars per year in uncompensated care for the state.  The state in turns holds onto approximately $57 million of that money for their general fund purposes and awards the rest to hospitals throughout Arizona to compensate them for uncompensated care provided to those who cannot afford it.  Without MIHS, the state’s budget hole would be even deeper.

In addition, MIHS patient population is nearly 90% AHCCCS or charity care.  Reimbursement rates for AHCCCS patients are well below that of private insurance. MIHS provides the best care at the lowest possible cost of any health care facility in Maricopa County.  There has been a great deal of hospital consolidation over the past few years.  Without MIHS to keep costs down, greater consolidation could undoubtedly have the effect of raising the rates and reducing competition for the AHCCCS populations.

Our state and our nation are struggling between the ideological extremes of those who want the government to be in charge of everything and those who fiercely believe that the government should do nothing.

The truth is in the middle.  We live in the real world where people get sick, injured, or burned.  People are experiencing behavioral health problems and have no place to turn.  Maricopa County’s population continues to grow and we don’t have enough doctors and nurses to meet demand.  Standing on the sidelines and simply saying no won’t fix these problems.

Is there a cost?  Yes.  And it is right on the website at for all to see.  You can see the total financial obligation and how much it’s going to cost you.   When you cast your vote on Prop 480, though, the real question you should be asking yourself is, “What is the cost to our community’s quality of life if MIHS doesn’t exist?”

The elected board of the health system is asking for the resources to improve your safety net care hospital for those who most desperately need care. Thank God if you are not one of them, and then “think big” and vote “yes.”

Teddy Roosevelt, the President who is most responsible for our state’s existence, would be proud.

HighGround, Inc. was one of the public advocates for creation of the Maricopa County Special Health Care District in 2003 and continues to work on the District’s behalf.  HighGround Inc. is also the General Election consultant on behalf of the YES on 480 Committee.

Roosevelt Row Continues To Impress

September 19th, 2014

HighGround is very proud to be a part of the Roosevelt Row community and the amazing growth we’ve seen here over the past decade. From art galleries to new restaurants and boutiques, Roosevelt Row has become one of the most energetic art districts in the country and people from all over are taking notice.

USA Today just named Roosevelt Row as one of the Top 10 Best City Art Districts in America, a well-deserved honor that proves our community is thriving as the new place to work, shop and live in Arizona. USA Today writes:

“The Roosevelt Row Arts District (RoRo) in downtown Phoenix is a walkable, creative district bedecked with galleries, quirky shops and exhibits by both up-and-coming and old favorite artists. The monthly First Fridays Artwalk includes participation by more than 70 galleries and art-friendly businesses who open their doors, creating what may be the nation’s largest, self-guided art walk. From its humble artist beginnings in 1993, the neighborhood has developed to include award-winning restaurants, galleries, boutiques and live music venues.”

Congrats to the entire Roosevelt Row community on this outstanding recognition!

Read the USA Today article here.