The Jackson Hole community had a big win in last week’s SPET elections, and I want to share some reactions with you.
Let me start with two big thank yous: To everyone who voted in Teton County’s SPET election last week.To everyone who offered such kind remarks about my recent SPET-related e-newsletter.Today’s e-newsletter has two foci: the SPET vote, and some reflections sparked by Veteran’s Day.
The SPET Vote: Big Picture
SPET Takeaway I: Needs, Not Wants
SPET Takeaway II: Mutual Trust
SPET Takeaway III: Safety, Environment, and Other
SPET Takeaway IV: Town v. County
Veterans’ Day Reflections
As always, thanks so much for your interest and support.
PS – On Wednesday, November 13, I will be leading a “Swap Meet” discussion at the Teton County Library from 6:00 – 7:30. Its focus will be an article entitled The Wall Street Takeover of Nonprofit Boards from the Summer 2015 edition of the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Click here for a copy
Even if you can’t make the session, I encourage you to read the article, as it touches upon a phenomenon important to every community: What is the role of non-profits, and what standards should we use to evaluate their performance?
|The SPET Vote: Big Picture|
I am over-the-moon ecstatic about the results of last week’s SPET election.
For those of you who haven’t heard, of the ten SPET items, nine passed (the only failure was the measure funding preliminary upgrades to the county courthouse).
The total cost of the nine approved proposals is $75 million. These funds will start to be collected next spring, and at current growth rates will likely take about four years to collect. The order in which each project will be funded will be determined over the next few months, driven by considerations such as urgency, how ready each is to go, and the like.
Caveat Emptor. Before going any further, please note the SPET tax analysis below is pretty much “inside baseball.” If you’re not a Teton County resident and/or a political junkie, it may not be your cup of tea.
Looking at the SPET results, I drew four basic conclusions. Each is listed in a section below.
|SPET Takeaway I: Needs, Not Wants|
Teton County’s voters recognize the community has significant needs, and not just wants
For reasons I’m not sure of, there seemed to be less opposition to this year’s SPET measures than in past years. No complaints from me…
The opposition that did exist revolved around the idea that the proposed projects were wants, not needs. With the exception of the courthouse update, though, voters disagreed, feeling that wildland fire trucks, wildlife crossings, affordable housing, and a host of other capital projects were things Jackson Hole needed in order to be the community they envision.
In that sense, I think the SPET vote was an encapsulation of a phrase I heard recently that I really like:
The place I want to live in is the place you want to visit;
the place I don’t want to live in is the place you want to avoid.
|SPET Takeaway II: Mutual Trust|
Teton County’s voters trust local government, and local government trusts the voters
Last summer, when we electeds considered which SPET measures to put on the ballot, we also debated whether to bundle all ten measures into one, or to offer voters an ala carte choice on each. I initially favored bundling, for I was concerned voters would approve some of the “sexier” measures but vote down critical-but-not-glamorous infrastructure needs. After hearing from a number of constituents, though, I switched my stance and advocated for the ala carte approach we ended up taking.
Implicit in that decision was (to use the au courant term) a quid pro quo: In giving voters a choice, we asked them to support all the proposals, sexy or not. And support them they did, honoring our faith in Teton County’s voters as we honored their request to give them a choice.
Bigger picture, the vote also suggests that, for all the messiness and angst associated with local government, voters felt confident in the measures we put on the ballot and, bigger picture, confident in us as elected officials.
To understate the case, this hasn’t always been true. So while we electeds can feel good about the SPET results, for me the meta-message is that we have to continue to work hard to maintain the support demonstrated last week.
|SPET Takeaway III: Safety, Environment, and Other|
Teton County’s voters actively support items related to their safety and the environment. Other items are a harder sell.
Perhaps inspired by the two wildfires that erupted on East Gros Ventre Butte this summer, six in seven voters supported buying new wildland fire trucks. (Graph 1, above)
Four in five supported Wildlife Crossings, and three in four supported both the Cache Creek Tube (which will keep pollutants out of Flat Creek) and Recycling.
From there, things fell off. The Historical Society’s proposal to set up shop on the Café Genevieve block was in a no-man’s land of sorts, more attractive than basic infrastructure but, at 62%, not as appealing as the environment or fire fighting.
Then there were the four measures that garnered 50-60 percent of the vote. I lump these into two sub-categories: core infrastructure, and helping those who need help.
The core infrastructure projects were the Gregory Lane project (which will fund much-needed road, water, and sewer repairs) and the Vehicle Maintenance Facility (which will provide adequate space to maintain the ~350 vehicles the town maintains year-round). Why did they do relatively poorly? I’m guessing it has to do with the fact that, unlike something like wildlife crossings, neither speaks to the primary reasons people live in Jackson Hole.
The projects for those who need help were the Rec Center expansion and Affordable Housing. Here, too, neither evokes the same kind of widespread emotional connections as the environment, resulting in lower voter support.
And the county courthouse? It’s the rare person indeed who waxes rhapsodic about a courthouse…
The lesson for future elections is that advocates either need to create an emotional connection between voters and a measure, or make a compelling case about how the community will benefit if the measure is passed.
|SPET Takeaway IV: Town v. County|
Town voters were more supportive of SPET than voters in the unincorporated county.
In this election, county residents cast 58% of all the votes, and town residents 42%.
Looking at the votes cast for all 10 SPET measures, a clear difference emerges in the voting patterns between town and county residents.
Overall, 65% of the votes cast were “yes.”
In the town, the figure was 68%
In the county, it was 62%
On each of the 10 measures, town voters cast a higher percentage of “yes” votes than did county residents. (Graph 2, above)
Similarly, with the exception of only wildlife crossings and wildland fire trucks, the most supportive precinct for every measure was in the town. And with the exception of only wildlife crossings, the least supportive precinct for every measure was in the county.
The meta-message is that, in Jackson Hole, town residents tend to be more progressive than county residents. But because there are more voters in the county than in town, it’s harder for more progressive county-wide candidates and measures to win.
The implication for future county-wide elections is this:
for progressive measures and candidates to win, supporters need to get a disproportionately strong turnout in town;
for conservative measures and candidates to win, supporters need to focus on getting county voters to turn out.
|Veterans’ Day Reflections|
I come from a line of military veterans.
My maternal grandfather served in World War I, and was decorated for valor. His one son (my uncle) was a Marine in World War II, and was being trained to invade Japan when the atom bomb was dropped. My father was a decorated Naval aviator in Korea, a hero whose exploits were the primary focus of a movie called Men of the Fighting Lady.
Yet I did not serve in the military. I had the freedom to not serve because by the time I turned 18, the draft had ended and the military had become all volunteer. In that post-Watergate era, I chose not to enlist because my idealistic self could not imagine ultimately reporting to a Commander in Chief undeserving of my respect and loyalty. For me, that was the line President Nixon had crossed, and the damage he wrought reverberates to this day – for me certainly, and I believe for our nation.
Later, I found out that, had the Vietnam War continued and I’d been called to fight, my father would have forced me to go to Canada or otherwise not serve. This from a man who was almost killed fighting for the country he loved, and who later chose to be buried with military honors, wearing his Navy uniform and Navy Cross. But like David Shoup, the Commandant of the Marine Corps during the early 1960s, my father had come to believe that whatever we were fighting for in Vietnam was far more about the egos of craven politicians than it was about America’s interests, and certainly not worth even one of what eventually turned out to be 50,000 American casualties.
I share this to set the stage for a story about a trip my son and I took to France about 15 years ago. One goal of the trip was to find the battlefield where my grandfather led a group of soldiers in such a valorous way that he was awarded the US Army’s Distinguished Service Cross (America’s second-highest military honor, trailing only the Medal of Honor), and the French government’s Croix de Guerre.
The too-brief story of my grandfather’s heroism is this.
At the beginning of the US involvement in World War I, the US Army was still segregated by race and organized by geography (e.g., the 20th Maine Volunteers who gained fame at Gettysburg). Yet in his seminal battle – a battle which has no formal name – somehow my grandfather, a white man from Arizona, ended up leading a group of black American soldiers from Ohio under French command. How, I wondered, could that have happened?
Long story short, in the winter of 1916-17, the British and French were depleted by war and panicked they’d be overrun by a German spring offensive. When the US decided to enter the war in April 2017, the Allies said, in essence, “Give us your troops, and we’ll take it from there.” To which the US replied. “No thanks. We’ll handle this ourselves.”
Despite that initial rebuff, the Americans realized the Allies were in dire straits, so agreed to send them some reinforcements as quickly as possible. The compromise struck was to send US Army colored regiments, led by white officers, to serve under French command. Hence black soldiers were among the first Americans to fight in World War I.
This next bit is speculation on my part, but piecing together the history, my assumption is that, rather than risk losing more good white Frenchmen to German attack, the French instead decided to turn the black Americans into cannon fodder. As a result, one morning my grandfather and his troops found themselves ordered to advance over a huge open farmfield to take a fortified and entrenched German position on a hillside about a mile away.
It was a killing zone, for the Germans had built concrete machine gun bunkers with clear sight lines to prevent just this kind of advance. Somehow, though, my grandfather managed to get across the field, cut through barbed wire and other barriers, and take out fortifications that were slowing down his men. Thanks in part to his heroism, by day’s end the Americans-cum-French had advanced a couple of miles, the Germans had fallen back, and the stage was set for a repeat of the same thing over and over again.
I mention all this because much of what I just shared I had to piece together from scant histories. Why? Because as monumental as this particular battle was in my grandfather’s life, it rates barely a sentence in any history book I’ve been able to find. The battle has no name because in the scheme of history, it meant essentially nothing. It was profoundly meaningful for my grandfather, of course, not to mention the men who died and were injured that day. But I’ve never found out how many people were involved, became casualties, or anything else, because in the larger context of the war the day’s events simply didn’t add up to much.
Since visiting that battlefield 15 years ago, that contrast – between the ultimate importance of that day’s events to some people, and their utter irrelevance to the larger tide of history – is what strikes me every Veteran’s Day.
102 years ago, my grandfather was fighting the Germans. Today, America does around $200 billion in trade with Germany, making it our 5th-largest trade partner. 67 years ago, my father was shot up while bombing railroad tracks bringing Chinese war materiel to Korean Communist soldiers. Today, China is America’s largest trade partner, exchanging over $650 billion in goods with us, while South Korea ranks 6th at around $150 billion. And the Vietnamese I did not have to fight are now America’s 17th-largest trading partner, at around $60 billion.
My point is that while some things in life – politics and international relations among them – can be transient, other things are timeless. What called my grandfather, uncle, father, and so many other veterans to service was the larger ideal that is our country, the values that speak to the highest aspirations of what America is and can be.
Especially on Veterans’ Day, it behooves all of us – and especially those of us in elected office – to remember the preciousness of the American ideal, and the peril at which we lose sight of it.