(This happened about a week ago, but I thought I'd post it here, as I am looking to make the Special Election my focus for the next month.)
Last night I got paid $85 to watch a bunch of ads about Prop. 75, the so-called "Paycheck Protection" act that would require public employees unions to get written permission from their members before using their union dues for political purposes. Initially I thought this focus group was sponsored by Schwarzenegger and the Repubs (I lied about not having a family member in a union (Mom's a teacher) and soft-pedaled my liberal status quite a bit in the pre-screening in order to infiltrate), but it became clear that it was sponsored by the unions.
And if this is the best they can do, we're in trouble.
We watched about 6 or 7 ads, 2 of them for "Yes on 75" and the rest for "No." Everyone in the room was a registered Democrat, and all of them opposed the measure. But the "No on 75" ads were mealy-mouthed and vague, and in the view of most of us, ineffective.
The "Yes" ads were far more direct, regardless of what you think about the measure. It states that union members deserve "Freedom of Choice" to determine where their money goes. Now, they wrap themselves in the flag (vote Yes or the terrorists will have already won), and they do an expert job of bamboozling (making a false assumption that all union money from members goes to political advocacy, which is ludicrous), but the casual observer might see them and think they make sense.
The "No" ads never actually say what the measure is. They use ominous buzzwords like "hidden agenda," and do nothing but try to link Arnold's past actions against public employee unions to this initiative. They never even use the word "union" in any of the spots, clearly afraid of the impression they think unions have (which completely buys into GOP spin that unions are evil and greedy). The spots show tesimonials from teachers, firefighters, and nurses. Yes, this has been successful to bash Arnold's agenda in the past, but the messaging on those were much better. These are pretty empty, consisting of nothing more than "Vote NO on this, because I'm a teacher and a good person."
These were all clearly shot before Arnold endorsed Prop. 75, so even the connection to him in the ads is indirect (always saying "Arnold's friends"). This has to change right away. Here are my other suggestions:
The ads have to say WHY we should vote no on 75. They have to explain that the entire point of collective bargaining is that a collective voice has more power than an individual's. This is UNION-BUSTING, and the ads should not be afraid to come out and say that.
There's a nugget in one of the ads where a firefighter says "This says up one set of rules for firefighters and public employees, and another set for big corporations." But he doesn't explain why. That should be an entire ad. "Flex Magazine didn't ask permission from all their employees and shareholders when they gave millions to Gov. Schwarzenegger to veto anti-steroid legislation. Tell the Governor to stop trying to unlevel the playing field." Democrats never go for the jugular on this. We can easily make "corporation" as dirty a word as we perceive "union" is. In fact, I think that feeling is already out there.
If you can't even mention the word "union" in pro-union spots, in my view you've already lost. There's an opportunity to educate the public as to why unions are so vitally important, and why big business and Republican political interests want to get rid of them. "Unions helped create the 8-hour workday, helped ban child labor, helped provide living wages and health insurance to millions of Californians for 80 years. Now the governor wants to wipe them out. Unions pool money from their members to advocate for them. That's how they leverage their power. The governor wants to weaken them, to sow discord, to make them fight amongst themselves so they can't fight his agenda."
CA voters already voted down the exact same initiative in 1998. Recently, in deciding to veto gay marriage legislation, Arnold cited Prop. 22 from 2000, saying "the people have spoken on this issue." People have spoken on Paycheck Protection too.
I understand why the "No on 75" people are messaging the way they are. They're trying to link Arnold's past actions to this one. The guy's at 32% approval, so this could work (one guy at the focus group, who didn't know a thing about Prop. 75 going in, explained his no vote simply by saying "I don't trust him). And teacher, nurse, and first responder testimonials have worked very well in the past. But to not explain the initiative at all, to never dare mention the word "union," is IMO a dangerous way to try to win, especially since Yes is ahead in the polls. You have to be more straightforward, you have to explain what this measure really does, you have to defend and celebrate the role of unions in American life.
WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT:
California has always been an initiative laboratory. This is coming to your state, whether it wins or not. But it's far more likely that you'll see it if it wins, and it's crucial that we get the messaging down here before it gets exported to other states.