American West Briefing Tour: A tale of two Arizona initiative campaigns
By Al Ortiz
PORTLAND, Oregon: The tour group has now landed in the eccentric city of Portland, Oregon, but before we shift focus to the Beaver State, loose ends need to be tied up from our time in Phoenix.
What better way to wrap up the part two of the tour than to visit with two of the top leaders in the initiative process.
We met with Eric Ehst on September 24, after our visit with a leader in health care reform, who helped organize 1998's Proposition 200. Ehst is the executive director of the Clean Elections Institute, a group dedicated to "promoting and defending public campaign financing, independent redistricting, and citizens' initiative and referendum rights since 1998."
Ehst's Prop 200 established the Clean Election's Act, which in part provides for the following: Funds participating state office candidates dollar for dollar against non-participants, up to a limit of $2 million. According to the current Clean Elections Act, public funds are provided to Candidate A if his or her opponent, Candidate B, is running on private funds and outspends them. If Candidate B spends more money than the public funds given to Candidate A, that would trigger additional public funding to Candidate A.
The initiative has come under fire, though, Ehst says, with a recent Supreme Court ruling that struck down the matching funds provision of the law. Also, a measure has been placed on the Arizona 2012 ballot that would not completely repeal the law, but would water it down.
After speaking with Ehst, we then made our way to a lunch meet-up with Joe Yuhas, partner and Executive Director Public Affairs at the Riester Consulting Company, an organization who specializes in assisting initiative campaigns with signature collection, media advertising, initiative message development, research and other aspects of the initiative process crucial to voter approval, or disapproval.
Yuhas, along with his established business partner, claimed at the lunch that Riester has a 95% winning rate with the initiative campaigns it runs. But when they lose, "It's very, very hard to take."
The most recent campaign they oversaw was Proposition 203 in 2010, the measure that allowed residents in the state with specific medical conditions to be treated with certain amounts of marijuana for personal use.
The measure was approved with 50.1 percent of the vote. Let that squeaker sink in to your mind.
Other campaigns the Riester company organized, according to a document given at the lunch with our tour group:
- NO on Prop 107: The 2006 ballot measure that would have banned same-sex marriage in the state. Riester guided that campaign to a victory with a 51.8% of voters voting no. The measure was a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment, revealing that Riester doesn't just focus on ballot initiatives.
- YES on Prop 301: This 2002 measure would preserve the state lottery. This measure won with 72.7% of the vote. The measure was a legislatively-referred state statute.
More on our penultimate day in Phoenix is to come later on, as you know if you have been closely following our travels, we have a hectic schedule throughout our days. Along with closing the books on our Phoenix visit, we will open up a new chapter with the great city of Portland, Oregon. If there is any state in the country that might have a slight advantage over Arizona as far as initiative news goes, it would be this state.
- Current City: Portland
- Next City: Salem (September 27)
What else to look for today
- All day meetings: Lewis and Clark College
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