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Initiative process abused
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Friday, December 1, 2006
After working on more than 200 ballot initiative campaigns nationwide during a career that spans nearly 50 years, political consultant Chuck Winner knows what works and what doesn’t when it comes to the voters. He also knows what doesn’t work with the initiative and referendum process itself.
|Chuck Winner, left, and Dean Edward J. McCaffery|
Winner and Dean McCaffery spoke before a room full of law and undergraduate students, faculty and staff in the second installment of USC Law’s “Conversations with the Dean.”
As a supporter of the Initiative & Referendum Institute at USC and a partner in Winner & Mandabach Campaigns, the nation’s premier political consulting company specializing in ballot measures, Winner also knows that lengthy and complicated ballot measures can deceive the public.
“Oftentimes people pass measures that are something other than what they thought they were voting on,” Winner said. “Oftentimes, measures - as lawyers and law students know - have parts or all of them that are thrown out because they are unconstitutional.”
By perusing an initiative’s 60 or 70 pages of text, consultants can select just a few words they think will make the measure sink or swim with voters and exploit them, Winner said, noting that his own firm has done the same with particularly deceptive initiatives.
“You’re really getting paid to exploit the limited attention span of voters – of course, you’re getting paid to win and you want to win,” McCaffery said.
In the recent November 2006 election, Winner and Mandabach headed a campaign for Missouri’s Proposition 71, which prevented the state from imposing restrictions on stem cell research tighter than those at the federal level. Meanwhile, Missouri Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill ran an attention-getting ad featuring Michael J. Fox, who endorsed the candidate for her support of stem cell research.
|USC Law alumna Ruth Lavine
'43 attended Winner's talk
Winner got his first taste of campaigning in 1952, when he went door to door for President Eisenhower, his parents’ favorite. After that, Winner switched to Democratic candidates. He worked with Gov. Pat Brown’s campaign and became involved in national politics during Pres. John F. Kennedy’s run.
Winner and Mandabach Campaigns began to focus solely on ballot measure campaigns in 1976, when the firm was hired to oppose a measure that would have shut down California’s nuclear plants. They had a resounding victory, winning every county in the state.
“That sort of catapulted us into becoming a ballot measure-specialist firm,” Winner said. “Truth is, in my view, if you don’t have to work with candidates in the political business, it’s better not to work with candidates.”
|Dean McCaffery (l) and Winner (r) with
Professor Beth Garrett, board member of
the USC Initiative & Referendum Institute
“It’s very, very important for us to understand what the voters are thinking or, when we are working in a non-election setting on a public policy issue, how our audience instinctively feels about the issue, whether that audience is one individual or whether it’s a whole population,” he said. “That way we can communicate with them on their terms, not on our terms.”
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