At just over 55% approval, with all precincts reporting, Measure BBB was adopted into the Long Beach City Charter and will -- with the relatively new local landscape of truly massive outside special interest spending on incumbents' campaigns -- virtually guarantee minimal turnover on the City Council dais for the next generation. Ironically, one of the biggest victims of this change will be Long Beach's Cambodian community, which -- after Mayor Garcia led some to believe that a Cambodian councilmember would be forthcoming if Cambodians supported all four measures -- will now likely have to wait far longer just to field a candidate for a competitive open seat.
The most basic takeaways from last night's result are as follows:
- 1) Deceptive ballot language, falsely characterizing a Yes vote as limiting current officeholders ("Shall the City Charter be amended to limit the Mayor and City Councilmembers to serving three terms..."), when in fact it changed and loosened Long Beach's existing two-term limit, worked. City Hall knew that voters support term limits, and they knew that the only way to get this anti-term limits measure through would be to mischaracterize it, with cynically Orwellian doublespeak, as pro-term limits.
- 2) Massive special interest money worked. Our campaign was outspent at least seven to one, perhaps worse, as the post-election campaign finance reports will show. Voters, likely focusing on high profile national and statewide politics, received a barrage of mail, almost all from one side, and a deluge of robocalls and robo-text messages, and -- combined with the deceptive
description of BBB amplified by that material -- were inevitably influenced.
- 3) Endorsements worked. The unseemly infiltration on various levels of the Democratic Party endorsements process by the mayor's political machine yielded party stamps of approval for his campaign material. Those he utilized (ironically, given his own history of party-switching) to exploit Democratic Party ID signaling to Long Beach's majority of registered-Democrat voters. There was nothing progressive about the mayor's special interest-driven campaign, with...checks for $5k, $10k, and $25k, but the Democratic voters sent this
material were likely unaware of that.
- 4) The strategy of hiding a term limits extension within a slate of other superficially innocuous sounding "charter reform" measures worked.
The mayor's single most important ally in his campaign was City Attorney Charlie Parkin, who wrote perhaps the most deceptive and misleading ballot description (known as the 'title and summary') in the modern history of Long Beach, causing lesser informed voters to believe that they were indeed voting in favor of term limits by voting yes, rather than altering a two terms (plus rare write-in option) system to a three terms system...
...City "informational flyers" (and utility bill inserts)...repeated and elaborated the deception. This is an issue which our
LBRC coalition intends to pursue with the Fair Political Practices Commission.
...While our campaign had over 150 donors, almost universally individual Long Beach residents who care about the future direction of their city and neighborhood, and whose median contribution was just $100, the mayor funded an enormous campaign war chest almost exclusively with big special interest checks...
...As a result, as stated, we were outspent by the yes campaign by at least seven to one. The latest campaign filing reports did not reflect the totality of the campaigns, but our total fundraising was about $48,000, while the mayor's yes campaign will likely have raised and spent upwards of $350k to $400k by the time all is said and done and accounted for...And being outspent by a factor of seven to one, perhaps eight to one or more, our challenge, combined with a ballot description that was not straight with voters, remained almost impossible.
Yet we take great pride in our campaign's success in alerting and activating so many voters to the growing corruptive influence of big money in Long Beach politics and the resultant decrease in City Hall's accountability and honesty, made clear by the overreach implicit in Measure BBB. Many demonstrated their outrage by putting up well over a thousand ‘No on BBB' yard signs across much of the city. Long
Beach Reform Coalition Exec. Dir. Ian Patton put it like this in an email to our coalition last night:
"We have given voice and hope to thousands of unheard folks all across this very big town who are sick and tired of being treated like chumps, and--I know--awoken many thousands more to the cynical reality of this City Hall. We have sent a powerful message that they can't just get away with anything, that they will be opposed tooth and nail when they overreach, that the people really do have power (both to organize, finance, & deliver a citywide electoral campaign), and we have made honesty and accountability real issues in Long Beach politics..."
It is a testament to Long Beach voters, in fact, that so very many -- about 45% -- saw through the veil of conjoined smokescreens: the city attorney's deceptions, the mayor's big money glossy mailer and robocall campaign, party ID-signaling and other endorsements, and the strategy of distracting voters from the term limits issue by putting a raft of unrelated charter amendments on the ballot together and
calling them a reform package. The mayor even obtained an endorsement from a chapter of Common Cause...
Nonetheless a huge number of Long Beach voters resisted the barrage of misinformation and sought out facts. Unfortunately, their number was not quite huge enough and now all Long Beach residents may be saddled with elected officials, backed by gushers of special interest money, almost impossible to dislodge, save for a term limit -- given the legal issues with BBB -- potentially so far in the future it may take another generation for any incumbent to be "limited" by it.
The newly formed Long Beach Reform Coalition considers it to have been its honor to have waged this campaign, and it will carry on with a reform agenda still in development and sorely needed in Long Beach. Our steering committee meets tonight to discuss the election and decide our future strategy and projects. Announcements will be forthcoming.
We will carry forward the mission of civic reform undaunted.