Ballot measures to eliminate ranked choice voting (RCV) from mayoral races and to require voter approval of the 8 Washington condo project could join other initiatives in deciding supervisor races in Districts 1,5 and 11. The RCV measure needs to secure six votes at the Board of Supervisors to proceed, while it could be two weeks before it is clear whether those gathering signatures for a referendum on the Supervisors’ approval of 8 Washington met their goal. These measures would add to what is becoming the most sweeping set of initiatives ever placed on a San Francisco ballot, as divergent political groups appear to believe that an expected large November turnout will help their cause.
If a local ballot already filled with initiatives seeking payroll tax reform, an affordable housing trust fund, a parcel tax for cash-starved City College and a $195 million park and playground facilities bond were not enough, two additional measures could add to the political scramble. The combination of a presidential election year, Jerry Brown’s Prop 30, and an expected huge labor campaign against the anti-union Prop 32
could mean a record turnout – though past history says this is not always best for progressives.
Ranked Choice Voting “Reform”
For reasons not at all clear, San Francisco’s moderate and conservative forces are angry and frustrated over the city’s use of ranked choice voting (RCV). This is not because it has unduly helped the candidate most backed by progressives; there is no such evidence, and the November 2010 Supervisor’s race in D10 likely argues otherwise.
Rather, in the minds of the city’s elite RCV is a symbol of San Francisco exceptionalism / alternativism that must be stamped out. There was insufficient Board support to get a full repeal on the ballot (and polls showed such a measure would fail), but Supervisor Christina Olague joined the five Board “moderates” in co-sponsoring a measure that would only end RCV for future Mayor’s races.
Most voters have little interest in how San Francisco’s 2015 Mayor’s race is run, but proponents of RCV care passionately. RCV backers have joined with the Bay Guardian in transforming RCV into a progressive litmus test, and have claimed that Olague is deserting D5’s progressive principles by supporting the legislation.
I support RCV for the money it saves the city, and see no reason to eliminate it for the Mayor’s race. But the main progressive purpose of RCV – avoiding low turnout December runoffs – does not apply to mayoral elections. That’s why I once argued against RCV on the grounds that Matt Gonzalez’s inspiring race against Gavin Newsom in 2003 would never have happened (and those who entered politics through Tom Ammiano’s 1999 runoff campaign would have missed that opportunity).
Proponents of the current system argue that because the RCV measure has the general mayoral election in September, the past record of high voter turnouts in mayoral races would not apply.
Should Olague vote to put the RCV measure on the ballot, it will have two impacts on the D5 race. First, the Guardian will formally expel Olague from their self-selected progressive club. Second, rival candidates will claim that Olague has breached the proud tradition of D5 progressivism and should be defeated.
Frankly, I don’t think many D5 voters will evaluate their choice for supervisor on the RCV issue, particularly as the Supervisors only voted to put the measure on the ballot. Further, with Guardian stalwart and longtime D5 progressive leader Calvin Welch opposed to RCV
, it can hardly be seen as a key progressive issue.
The greater question is whether the RCV ballot measure will become a conduit for major donations from the pro-side to moderate candidates challenging John Avalos in D11 and Eric Mar in D1.
There is no limit to the amount of money that people can donate to ballot measures. And if literature for the RCV measure promotes endorsements from supervisor candidates, this does not count as a contribution to the candidate’s campaign.
I’m not concerned about Avalos’ campaign, because there is no scenario I can envision that the voters oust him in favor of Leon Chow. Avalos faced a much tougher opponent in 2008, and reports that Chow has been living in Walnut Creek while voting elsewhere only adds to his problems. Downtown and real estate interests will not squander much money on this race, seeing a far greater pickup opportunity in David Lee’s campaign against Eric Mar in D1.
Eric Mar and 8 Washington
8 Washington is another issue largely irrelevant to the progressive agenda
, and the referendum campaign shows what happens when the 1% loses a political fight – it keeps battling. The referendum represents a savvy strategy regardless of the outcome in November, and if it does qualify it will become another key receptacle for unlimited indirect campaign donations to campaigns on both sides of this issue.
Mar’s supporters should feel fortunate that he voted for 8 Washington. It insulates him from massive attack ads by the potential campaign against the referendum. Mar’s already got his hands full in November, as he faces a very organized and ambitious opponent in David Lee.
Landlord and downtown interests really don’t have a lot of places to park local money in sharply contested races this November. Much of their resources will go to defeat Mar, which is why organized labor and progressive groups are also targeting this race.
David Lee is trying to run the type of race Scott Wiener ran in D8 in 2010. Wiener outraised and outworked his opponents, and handily won a contest that many progressives thought Rafael Mandelman could win.
The difference here is that Mar is an incumbent, has veteran campaign manager Nicole Derse running his campaign, and has a committed on the ground field campaign. D1 voters will soon be overwhelmed with door knocks, phone calls and mailers in this race.
Noted pollster David Binder told me in 1992 that as the Richmond goes, so goes San Francisco. I think that’s still true, and D1 may prove a good indicia of other San Francisco results come election night.
By the way, the reason progressives do not often do as well in presidential turnouts is that it brings to the polls a lot of people whose only knowledge of local politics comes from mailings and paid political ads. Most come from opponents of progressive candidates and issues.
Progressives do better with more focused turnouts during gubernatorial elections, with 1990, 1994, and 1998 all winning big local progressive victories. The big progressive supervisor wins in 1992 and 2000 were an exception, and neither 1996, 2004 nor 2008 brought significant local progressive gains.