I was disappointed, though not entirely surprised, to see the anti-roads initiative, I-912, turn in 420,000 signatures on Friday. Barring historically massive signature fraud the measure will surely qualify for the November ballot. But I will not join the gloom-and-doom coming from some opponents, for its passage is no sure thing, and there is an attainable strategy towards defeating I-912: the media must simply do its job.
I don’t mean that it is the media’s job to defeat I-912… I mean that their job is telling voters the truth about what the transportation package means to their local communities. It will take a lot of work and a lot of research, but it’s their responsibility as journalists. And if voters across the state understand exactly what their communities will lose if the transportation package is repealed, then I-912 stands a reasonable chance of being defeated.
Understand first that despite the steady stream of propaganda coming from the initiative’s on-air sponsor KVI, I-912 is likely headed for a big defeat in King County… by an even larger margin than David Irons will be thumped in the race for King County Executive. Irons’ own polling shows I-912 losing by a 55% to 38% margin… 75% to 18% among Democrats. Even a third of KC Republicans oppose the initiative.
And this was a Republican poll designed to “push” some of the questions. Given steady, honest, thorough coverage in the local press, and sufficient paid media, the initiative should be defeated in King County by 10 to 20 points. I’m guessing a similar effort in Snohomish and Pierce, could make those counties a wash, while communities heavily dependent on ferry service will provide a modest margin of defeat.
But it’s Eastern Washington where the MSM really has to step up to the plate and explain the local impact of the transportation package to their local audiences. The package includes hundreds of improvement projects, many of which are intended to fix dangerous roads, intersections and interchanges… high accident areas where people have lost their lives. The package replaces crumbling bridges and other infrastructure, not just in Seattle, but throughout the state… structures whose collapse would not only present a physical danger, but would inflict great economic harm to local communities. The package includes many local projects that local community leaders have spent great time and effort working with their legislators to obtain, and to repeal this package would nix funding for the foreseeable future.
No, we shouldn’t stop trying to refute common misconceptions about the tax side of the equation… we need to repeat and repeat that even with this increase the state gas tax will be at historically average levels in real dollars, and that transportation revenues do indeed flow from the wealthiest, most populated counties towards the rest of the state. But as George Lakeoff argues, if the facts don’t fit the frame, the facts are discarded and the frame stands.
The only way to defeat I-912 is to soften the Yes vote by making voters understand the very real, local transportation projects that they are being asked to repeal. And the only way to achieve this effectively and believably is if voters hear it from their own local media. They need to hear the personal stories of neighbors who lost friends and family on dangerous roads, or of local farmers and other businesses who depend on the roads for the efficient flow of goods to port and market. They need to hear from local business and civic leaders as to how these projects benefit their community.
If this initiative is simply about repealing a tax, then of course it will pass. Nobody likes to pay taxes. But if this initiative is about the local projects that this tax buys, then the transportation package has the opportunity to survive a repeal based on its merits, rather than just anti-government rhetoric.
So to my friends in the media I say it is all up to you. Instead of just covering the politics behind I-912, dig into the package and explain to your audiences the local impact of repeal. I’ll stick my neck out and predict that if you do your job, the initiative will fail. Here is your opportunity to prove me wrong.