Thursday, August 04, 2005

How LUS Beat the Big Guys

Of all places by far, by FAR, the best retrospective piece on the election published so far appeared in the Times of Acadiana. The source of endless inaccuracies and disinformation during the campaign becomes, in the aftermath, the most accurate and comprehensive reteller of the story. Go figure.

The story was split into to sections: "How LUS Beat the Big Guys" and a sidebar, "Where Fiber Failed." For a wonder they are both imminently sensible.

In "How LUS Beat the Big Guys" Pittman thematizes, for the first time in the media, how thoroughly the pro-fiber side dominated the election. This is a useful corrective to the misleading way most of the media covered the referendum.*

Leading up to Saturday, July 16, Lafayette was in the throes of a full-blown blitz of mostly pro-fiber campaigning. LUS held six town hall meetings...Some 2,000 black signs with vibrant fire-truck red check marks [ahem, see the accompanying photo-jstj] encouraged voters to flick the "yes" switch in the booth. Direct mail from LUS, while legally unable to encourage a "yes" vote, provided information on the benefits of fiber to the home. Civic groups, more than a dozen in number, told their members and the general citizenry that a "yes" vote was the vote for the future. Media from 5 o'clock newscasts to early morning papers detailed the latest developments and build up to the election. Eight billboards detracted drivers with a story-high "Yes."

All totaled, the yes camps spent into the six-figures to win the election, not counting priceless endorsements.

In contrast:
By comparison, the opposition's stream of influence was a trickle, with only one local group making a significant detraction. That group, Fiber 411, used $22,000 to provide signs and a direct mail campaign paid for by its Bill Leblanc, a local contractor.
That's accurate reporting--and a quite different picture than that an out of town consumer of our media would have gotten. There was little that was symmetrical about local support.

Another gratifying corrective to the standard narrative was the inclusion of Lafayette Coming Together (LCT) as a major player on the pro-fiber side. Deliberately constructed by its founders** as a bipartisan, cross-town organization, the new, large, and independent citizen-based activist group developed and orchestrated the most visible parts of the campaign outside TV and its members defended fiber in debates and on several online websites. Its black and red "For Fiber" logo and "for our future, for our children" slogan graced the podium wherever pro-fiber speakers went. Its 'paid for' tag was on ads, flyers, and radio spots. Yet, unaccountably, it, with its 500 member list of supporters and overwhelming presence on the ground, was mentioned in the Advertiser 3 times while Fiber 411 and its 3 avowed members were mentioned 49 times. In this case "symmetry" and "equal time" led to a truly outlandish distortion of the truth. The Times story puts LCT's role in the proper context. History and the members of LCT are gratified.

The article also highlights the local theme of the successful campaign which proved crucial:

Playing into the us and against them mentality of Lafayette voters, the pro-fiber camp were wise to employ a live phone bank to solicit voters on election day. A bipartisan effort -- which involved both Democrat and Republican party members, Huval, Durel, St. Julien and more volunteers -- rang city voters urging them to vote. BellSouth, on the other hand, used an automated pre-recorded message to reach voters.

I'd liked to have seen more emphasis on the massive role a courageous leadership played in the results as well as the theme they and LCT played out that criticized corporate tactics and motives (a populist theme played shockingly well in supposedly conservative Lafayette). But this is the most useful story yet on what actually happened duing the campaign that led to the win we saw on July 16th.

Where Fiber Failed

The sidebar story that tried to look at the flip side of the success was gratifyingly accurate as well. Fiber actually failed nowhere:

The July 16 "yes" vote rang out across town, winning each district. Only 782 voters in 12 voting precincts stopped the election from being a clean sweep.

In only five precincts did the "no" vote lead with a 10-point margin or greater. The widest "no" majority occurring at Pinhook's W.A. Lerosen Alternative School and Southpark, both recording 36 to 64 percent. However, the 782 "no" votes cast at these precincts seem minuscule in the more than 20,000 total votes in the election.
That's putting things in perspective. Yes, there were systematic differences in the vote, given our history and the issue it would be strange if there were not. But my sense is that these differences followed fault lines well-established in our community and that the degree of difference was 1) much less than in other elections (e.g. the presidential elections where the contrast betwee these same areas was huge) and 2) that some of even the reduced difference was attibutable to the effects of lower turnout in the "no" areas rather than directly to voter opinion in the preciencts. (Apathy and distrust are particularly high in these areas of the community for historically valid reasons.) [I've looked at the factors in the no-vote/low-turnout areas in an earlier reflective post.]

footnotes
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*I've complained, bitterly, that the "He said, She said" framework, used in most reporting during the recent referendum, that gives both sides equal space and equal respect in the name of objectivity only serves to mislead the public about the quality of the argument and support for the contending sides. In fact, as this article uniquely and accurately reports, almost everyone who looked at the issue seriously came down on the side of LUS and the city. Reporting the contest between the two sides as one in which the support, the quality of the arguments, and the type of arguments offered were written up as if there were no differences was, and is, fundamentally misleading. (Ironically, the disparaging phrase, "He Said, She Said" that I used to point to this issue during the campaign was lifted from the title of a series of columns in Pittman's Times that featured that I thought were forced and gratuitously contrasting views on each movie reviewed. The format tended to distort the content. Pittman here redeems his paper and demonstrates to his print media colleagues that accurate and blindly symmetrical reporting is not the same thing.)

** The story inaccurately depicts me (John St. Julien) as the "head of LCT." There was no head in the usual sense. There were three founders of Lafayette Coming Together: Mike Stagg, Don Bertrand, and myself and we did proabably give the group its initial direction. But the campaign itself was organized and run by a "working committee" which was made up of about a dozen people who met weekly and, well, worked: they ramrodded "projects" in the campaign like the phone bank or the fiber film festival. No executive committee in the usual sense was involved and there was certainly no chaiman. The loosely coupled aspect aspect of the organization, in which people took independent responsibilty, was deliberate and in the opinion of the participants, I think, contributed substantially to our ability to organize quickly, creatively, and effectively.

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