by Michael D. Robbins
Director, Public Safety Project
May 18, 2012
Thank you to the 90 percent of El Segundo voters who voted against Measure P, the firefighter union’s initiative, and to those who campaigned against it. I campaigned against Measure P since at least August 2010, and the results are spectacular. The firefighter union gave up campaigning when their professional polls determined it would lose by a wide margin, due to our early and sustained campaign against Measure P. They did not give up as a favor to residents. We continuously campaigned against Measure P to ensure success, because of the likely loss of life if it were to pass.
However, the outcome could have been entirely different had the swing-voter on the City Council, Bill Fisher, swung the other way, and voted along with his friend Mayor Eric Bush to sell the firefighter union an earlier more advantageous election date for up to $65,000 to cover the increased election costs. It required intense pressure to get Fisher to swing our way.
The El Segundo Firefighters’ Association (the firefighters’ labor union) put Measure P on the ballot to maximize their salaries and job security at our expense in lives and money. They probably spent significantly more than $100,000 in campaign money collected from their union members, and from trusting and unsuspecting residents, to put Measure P on the ballot and to campaign for it.
They hired an expensive professional campaign consultant for an extended period of time, probably costing them more than $60,000. They hired an expensive campaign attorney to help write their initiative petition and help complete and file the necessary legal forms to get Measure P on the ballot. They paid for a lawsuit against the City over wording in the sample ballot to maximize their chances of winning the election for Measure P. And they paid for multiple expensive propaganda “push” telephone polls, that probably cost at least $12,000 to $18,000 each, in support of Measure P and the police union’s failed city council campaign to elect Scott Houston and Cindy Mortesen (the two lowest-ranked candidates in my Candidate Ranking).
The firefighters collected the Measure P initiative petition signatures by lying to voters, claiming that Measure P would preserve our local fire department when it would in fact do the opposite. And their ballot arguments in the sample ballot contained many misleading and deceptive statements.
The firefighters also told voters that signing their petition would not make it a law, but would only put it on the ballot for a vote, and voters could change their mind after signing the petition and vote against the initiative at the election. But after the firefighters collected enough signatures to qualify the initiative for the ballot, they went to a City Council meeting on February 15, 2011 and asked the Council to enact their initiative directly into law without allowing the voters to vote on it.
They cited the number of signatures they collected as “support” for dispensing with the election and bypassing the voters. However, they covered up the fact that they collected signatures using misrepresentation, including outright lies, and voter intimidation by showing up at voters’ homes to collect signatures.
The firefighters asked, as a second choice if they could not dispense with an election, that Measure P be put on the ballot at a special election within only three to five months – in May, June, or July of 2011 – instead of the standard statutory city election date fourteen months later – in April, 2012. The earlier election date would have given the firefighters’ union significant unfair election campaign advantages. But the City Council voted 3 to 2 to put Measure P up for election on the standard city election date of April 10, 2012.
When the voters were informed with more complete and accurate information in a low cost but long and sustained grassroots campaign against Measure P, and were allowed to vote anonymously using a secret ballot without intimidation and coercion, 90 percent voted against Measure P. How often do 90 percent of the voters vote the same way on any ballot measure? Almost never.
Clearly, the firefighters’ union was committed to spending enormous amounts of money and effort, and engaging in a dishonest campaign to win the election. They could have put a glossy color campaign mailer in every voter’s mailbox every few days throughout the campaign, and could have knocked on every voter’s door multiple times.
That is why the Measure P election outcome could have been entirely different had the firefighters been successful in their attempt to buy a much earlier special election date for up to $65,000 that would have tilted the playing field significantly in their favor. They could have overwhelmed the residents with a short but extremely intense campaign where voters – especially absentee voters – would vote having seen mostly fire union propaganda. The grassroots campaign conducted up to that time may have been insufficient to defeat Measure P.
The firefighter union’s campaign consultant advised them to buy a much earlier, more favorable special election date in mid-2011 with a much shorter campaign period, higher voter turnout (i.e., more voters who are less informed on local issues and who could be swayed by a deluge of union campaign mailers), and no City Council election where candidates would have to take a position for or against Measure P, and where some candidates would actively campaign against Measure P.
This much shorter election campaign period would have given the firefighters significant unfair advantages towards winning the election. They could easily raise $100,000 to more than $200,000 within a few days from their richly paid union members, and they had more than 50 union members with lots of free time to volunteer for political campaigns. They only have to work two out of every six days to get paid $150,000 to more than $300,000 per year in total compensation, and they get paid to sleep one-third of the time.
Former Mayor Eric Busch and Councilman Don Brann voted for the early 2011 special election date favoring the firefighters, and City Council members Carl Jacobson, Suzanne Fuentes, and Bill Fisher voted for the standard 2012 election date. This played a significant role in determining the outcome of Measure P.
Fisher was the swing vote, and he even suggested at a City Council meeting that the firefighters could pay the additional cost of the much earlier special election that they sought. It took much pressure on Fisher from myself and other residents to get him to swing our way and vote what was best for the community rather than for the firefighters’ union that provided thousands of dollars in campaign support to help get him and Busch elected.
Thus, even despite our early and sustained campaign against Measure P, it is possible that if one swing-voter on the City Council – Bill Fisher – had swung the wrong way, El Segundo residents could have lost their fire department and three paramedic ambulances long before the April 10, 2012 election where Measure P was ultimately defeated by 90 percent of the voters.