Kapolczynski: My story is similar to Garry’s. I moved here to run Barbara Boxer’s first Senate campaign. And my California experience totaled all of two weeks working for Gary Hart for president in 1984.
Probolsky: We also have this strong general consultant, weak campaign manager structure in a lot of California races. In that model, it’s the GC that picks the other vendors—the pollster, the mail house, etc. Whereas in other parts of the country you’ve got the strong campaign manager structure. In California you can get in much more easily as a weak campaign manager.
Kapolczynski: The other thing is that the money in California means there are more paid staffers on legislative campaigns and city council campaigns than in other places. There might actually be a paid field director on a legislative campaign, where in other states you just don’t have the money for that. State senate districts are bigger than congressional districts in California.
Roe: We have a full field staff in a targeted assembly race because we don’t have the volunteer motivation that we had a decade ago.
Kapolczynski: Even non-targeted races have paid staff. The sheer number of positions available at the entry level is large. A lot of people don’t want to have politics be their life, so a person who was a field director last year goes off to graduate school or goes into business and that opening exists again.
C&E: Given what we saw happen with Prop 8 and gay marriage, are people going to keep spending the same kind of money on initiative campaigns?
Probolsky: Most initiatives don’t have that kind of fundamental constitutional pressure to them. Most of them are revenue-based so I don’t think it will have much of an impact.
Kapolczynski: I agree. We have initiatives here because people want to change policy and they decide the initiative route is the most cost-effective way to do it. That’s not going to change. Most of them are unconstitutional from the start.
South: It doesn’t change the basic fact that there is a huge industry in California built up around the initiative process, and I don’t just mean consultants. I mean moneyed special interests, whether it be the insurance companies or whomever goes to the ballot to circumvent the legislature.
Now that you have two-thirds control of the legislature by the Democrats, I think there’s probably going to be more incentive on the business side, rather than less, to go to the ballot. The thinking is that with two-thirds control, [business interests] are not going to have the play they used to have when they could use the Republican minority to thwart things. So I would be really surprised if you see a diminution in the number of initiatives because of the Prop 8 ruling.
Roe: There’s probably going to be a slight curtailing in statewide ballot initiatives, but I don’t think it has anything to do with Prop 8. The number one thing is that I don’t think the people that fund these things are going to be willing to spend the money they have in the past, particularly on our side of the aisle. The reason is that they put up things that tested well in polling and thought they had a good message and all the resources they needed and then came up fat. I just don’t think people are willing to write the checks on the Republican side. Unfortunately, on our side, there’s also a little bit of a sense of accepting the Democratic majority in Sacramento and trying to navigate that, rather than trying to thwart it.
South: Starting in 2014, we’ll have a new situation that we haven’t had since 1972 in California. All ballot measures will be on the November ballot, not on the primary ballot. That changes the composition of the electorate. Conservative interests used to try to get things on the primary ballot thinking that turnout would be lower, particularly in a non-presidential year. They don’t have that option anymore. Conservative interests are going to have to think very carefully about putting things on the November ballot knowing that the turnout composition is going to be totally different.
C&E: A lot of California consultants don’t work much outside of the state. What’s the approach for you all?
South: We have more registered voters here than there are people living in 46 of the other 49 states. LA County is bigger than 42 states. There’s plenty of work here to keep anybody busy if they don’t want to get on three different fights to get to Altoona, Pennsylvania to work for some dipshit member of Congress. I want to say this though about the initiative business: It’s been my experience, particularly with ballot measures that originate out of Sacramento, there are a favored few on both sides of the aisle who almost automatically get handed that work. I have been shut out of campaigns because CTA didn’t want me involved. Organized labor just did a do-not-hire list that included several Democratic consultants, several main line Democratic pollsters and Jerry Brown’s own campaign strategist from the 2010 campaign, Steve Glazer. They did it because those consultants were involved in independent expenditure efforts where the candidate they were handling was not the labor candidate.
Probolsky: In a county supervisor race, there’s a decent chance that a couple million dollars will be spent, depending on the county. It’s not like you can’t make good money in campaigns running or working in a couple different big races. In California, we also have one really fascinating advantage that I don’t know if any other state has. We have something called the ballot designation. When my candidate is running for legislature, one of the first things we do is test ballot titles to see whether they should run as deputy district attorney, businessman, legislator. It’s a massive advantage in the process of explaining who your candidate is—those three words, or in the case of an elected official, the full description of their title. It doesn’t exist in any other state.
Kapolczynski: I think it’s true that it’s okay to be from D.C., but it’s not okay to work out of state if you’re from Los Angeles. I’ve done some work in the northwest in Washington and Oregon and I’ve done multiple interviews where people always ask, “You’re from Los Angeles, how can you understand Seattle?” Well, I did live in Seattle for eight years, and have done multiple successful campaigns there. But there’s still a cultural barrier.
Roe: Particularly up in Washington and Oregon there’s an anti-California bias.
Kapolczynski: And yet they hire D.C. consultants without any hesitation.
South: I do think the disadvantage in coming into some other place from California is the massive amounts of money that we’re used to dealing with here. I have friends that have run for state legislature in Missouri and if they raise $125,000 they think it’s great. You can’t even run for city council in LA with $125,000.