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Thugary and Corruption Are the Real Winners

Schools play important role in Prop 100 victory

by Mary Jo Pitzl - May. 20, 2010 12:00 AM The Arizona Republic

Education is a winner at the polls.

For proof, look no further than the margin of victory of Proposition 100. Overall, 64 percent of state voters said "yes" to a three-year, 1-cent-per-dollar increase in the state sales tax. Arizona's schoolteachers and kids were the face of the campaign, and they delivered a decisive win.

Tuesday's results exceeded the best numbers the Yes on 100 Committee turned up in repeated polling. Internal polls indicated initial support at 59 percent, bumping up to the low 60s and down again as the two-month campaign progressed, co-Chairman Pat Quinn said.

"Sixty-four percent: That's a pretty big number," Quinn said of unofficial returns.

Political consultants generally agree that ballot questions need to start with 60 percent support to have a shot at passing, as support typically erodes during a campaign.

But this time, support grew as the campaign progressed.

The sales-tax increase championed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer was promoted by a well-funded campaign and embraced by school supporters. They organized car-painting events at local schools, wore "Yes on 100" T-shirts and set up "100 lemonade stands for (Prop.) 100."

Two-thirds of the estimated $1 billion a year from Prop. 100 is dedicated to education; the other third will be split between public safety and health and human services.

"I've noticed when you get into education, you get past the political side and people want to have the best for their kids," said Scott Holcomb, a member of the Madison Elementary School District board and a Prop. 100 supporter. "People have seen the layoffs of teachers. They've seen the cuts in the schools."

On top of existing cuts, the prospect of further reductions if the sales-tax failed motivated school supporters. The scenarios were grim: From further layoffs and larger class sizes to triple-digit fees for extracurricular programs.

They also saw a grass-roots campaign that sprouted separately from the professionally run campaign.

"I don't know if you noticed, but a lot of cars had 'Yes on 100' written on them," Quinn said. "That didn't come from us."

Parents and students organized the paint-a-thons at local schools. Kids stood on street corners waving signs, and parents and teachers manned phone banks and knocked on doors to spread the message.

Jaime Molera, a political consultant who served as state schools superintendent in the late 1990s, said a sense of pride motivates support for education.

"When you ask people around the state, they don't like the fact that Arizona is seen at the bottom of school rankings," said Molera, who ran a previous statewide sales-tax campaign that hinged on support for education.

That effort, Proposition 301, passed with 53.5 percent of the vote in 2000, a time when the state was in better economic condition.

Molera attributes Prop. 100's success to a combination of a doomsday sense about the fate of Arizona schools, strong mobilization by school groups and solid financing.

"It doesn't hurt to have a couple-million dollars to get the message out," he said.

Prop. 100 supporters raised more than $2.2 million. On Monday, campaign organizers said they spent their last nickel on a series of computer-generated calls to get out the vote.

Prop. 100 passed in 14 of the state's 15 counties, Mohave County being the exception. Backers were surprised the measure got a greater percentage of the "yes" vote in conservative Maricopa County - 66 percent - than Democratic-leaning Pima County, where support was 64.5 percent.

Although even Brewer said she was surprised at the 3-2 ratio of support, school-finance issues play well with voters.

Holcomb said Madison district voters have never rejected a bond issue or override in the 26 years he has lived in the north-central Phoenix district.

Last fall, nine of 12 budget-override elections in Valley schools passed.

Those results continued a pattern that has held through ups and downs in the local economy, election returns show.

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