Backers of Referendum 48, the failed property rights measure, say they were outflanked on the right by opponents who successfully defined the election as a vote against higher taxes.
“We lost a lot of conservative voters,” said Patrick Batts, president of the state Farm Bureau, which ran the Citizens for Property Rights campaign.
“The other side waged a very intelligent campaign. In the end, people didn’t see this as being about property rights. They felt it was a vote against higher taxes.”
Batts said Wednesday he was surprised the Tuesday vote was not close. The measure was soundly defeated, with 631,797 voters turning thumbs down to 408,550 voting to adopt the measure.
“We knew we would be strong in rural areas of the state so we concentrated on the suburbs, but did not do as well there as we hoped.”
The campaign lost even in Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties, all hotbeds of the state property rights movement.
“When we got the call about Snohomish County, we knew we were in trouble.”
Spokane decisively rejected the measure, even in the conservative Fourth and Sixth legislative districts.
The measure won only in the most rural and sparsely populated areas of the state in Central and Eastern Washington.
The campaign targeted rural voters with mailers designed to raise fears of losing their property to restrictions pushed by “Seattle extremists.”
Batts said the campaign sent out more than 1.6 million pieces of targeted mail during the last two weeks of the campaign.
The campaign opted to use mail instead of television because mailings can be more precisely targeted, Batts said. “Mailings were our secret weapon.”
The measure was passed with bipartisan support as an initiative to the Legislature last session. Opponents gathered signatures this summer to force the issue onto the ballot for a popular vote.
The measure would have required taxpayers to pay property owners compensation for any reduction in the value of the property due to regulation adopted for public benefit.
It was widely regarded as the most extreme property rights law in the country.
Lawmakers said they passed the measure because of intense popular pressure for a property rights law. Every GOP member of the Spokane-area delegation voted for it.
But the measure only got to the Legislature because it was bankrolled by business interests, who paid big bucks to gather the necessary signatures.
Once voters finally had their say, the measure lost in 16 counties.
“The Legislature should have looked at this a little harder,” said Dee Frankfourth of the No on 48 campaign.
“They got sold a bill of goods by special interests who bought the signatures and thought they could buy themselves a law.”
Building, real estate and timber interests spent more than $1 million on the campaign.
The No on 48 campaign went out of its way to capture the vote in Spokane, and avoid an east vs. west or urban vs. rural campaign, Frankfourth said.