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What I learned during the city council campaign

Right Here, Right Now

Posted: May 5, 2008 1:57 a.m.
Updated: July 6, 2008 5:03 a.m.
Being Mayor Bob Kellar's campaign consultant, I enjoyed an inside view of the longest council campaign (15 months) in Santa Clarita's history.

When I was young, every September (remember when school started after Labor Day?) we wrote our perfunctory "What I did last summer" essays; this is my version for the just-concluded campaign.

The city has finally matured: I remember looking at the dais during the first candidates debate and realizing that everyone on stage was qualified to be on the City Council. Hopefully, we will no longer have to endure Dennis Conn-type candidates mucking up the field. (One of the reasons I switched to satellite TV was so I wouldn't be subjected to Conn's absurd theories every time I flipped past channel 20.)

All you have to do is ask: Laurie Ender proved that if you ask, they will vote! Her campaign infused new blood and new voters into civic discourse. I attended an early fundraiser for her and I knew only five people in a room of 75. Hanging on the periphery of the conversation, I vividly recall one of them saying, "We'll show those people in Elite Magazine who runs this city!" I wonder how that woman is going to feel when she sees Laurie in the upcoming June edition...

Candidates need a constituency group: Newhall County Water District director and council candidate Maria Gutzeit didn't perform as well as I would have thought. It finally occurred to me that she has yet to find a constituency. Maria is everything you want in an elected official - intelligent and with integrity. A moderate Democrat, she is spurned by the Lefties in her party, and she hasn't been fully embraced by the business community. Many people who would have voted for her didn't, because they didn't want to "waste" a vote.

My advice to Maria: seriously consider crossing the aisle to the Republican side. You would be welcomed!

People read headlines, not the story: Signal readers may not know this, but Mayor Bob Kellar is not going to jail for inadvertently not reporting some items on his FPPC Form 700s. Kellar was victimized by some over-the-top headlines. The news coverage wasn't much better, but at least if one read the whole story the hyperbole was apparent.

This flap cost Kellar three to seven points in support, preventing him from enjoying the landslide victory he deserved. (On a personal note: I take full responsibility for Kellar not finishing in the first position. I should have double-checked his 700 Forms to ensure they were filled out completely.)

Bob Kellar can take a punch: After scandalous headlines, vitriolic public attacks at council meetings, rogue Web sites and anonymous "hit" e-mails, the voters chose to continue putting their faith in Mayor Kellar with another four-year term.

McKeon's name is still gold: The Ender/Kellar win was so dominating that you can't solely attribute it to Congressman McKeon's endorsement of both candidates. However, Ender's campaign effectively used the endorsement in direct mailings to link first-time candidate Ender to our long-time beloved congressman. Anecdotally, I heard from precinct walkers that voters were telling them they were voting for "Buck McKeon's choice." All City Council candidates for 2010 should take note!

Issues matter more than biography: Out of all the challengers for the open seat, Ender ran the most issue-driven campaign. By election day everyone knew where she stood on the Cemex mine, Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital's master plan, public safety and the widening of Interstate 5. Voters care about what you are going to do for them, not your biography.

The campaign was over by March 31: Two years ago there were fewer than 7,500 permanent vote-by-mail voters; this year the count was 15,193.

Nearly 70 percent of the votes came early and by way of the U.S. Postal Service. Ten days before election day I called a consultant to one of the other campaigns and recommended they not spend any more money because the race was over for their candidate. Ender's political base in North Valencia had returned absentee ballots at a rate three times higher than the rest of the city. The consultant didn't heed my advice, and in the final week that campaign sent three mailers, did a Robo-call and a live call. The campaign lost by more than 1,100 votes, with absentee ballot votes accounting for 852 of that deficit.

Thanks to Governor Schwarzenegger, Republicans have a systematic advantage over Democrats even in a non-partisan race: Republicans outnumber Democrats by 12,000 voters, giving the GOP a natural "home court" advantage. However, as mentioned earlier, in the last two years there has been a doubling of permanent vote-by-mail voters from less than 7,500 to more than 15,000.

Of those 15,000 permanent vote-by-mail voters, nearly 65 percent are registered Republicans. In 2006 the governor's campaign made a concerted effort to register Republicans as permanent vote-by-mail voters to bolster turn-out. That had consequences in this race as more than 3,100 voters who have never voted in a City Council election received a ballot in the mail.

I believe voters are smart. In a very strong field, they chose the best two candidates to serve on the council. Now it's time to get to work!

Scott Wilk is President of Liaison Communications LLC and is an elected member of the 38th Assembly District Republican Central Committee. His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.


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