Election night was no walk in the park

Judging on campaign contributions alone, it appeared that victory was looming for the California’s state parks initiative.

The measure, Proposition 21, would have imposed an annual $18 surcharge on vehicle registration fees and given drivers free day-use access to all state parks. It appeared in the clear for an election night victory.

But then it failed – and miserably.

The earliest returns showed it failing by nearly 30 points, and while the measure gained votes well into the night, it faced a 16-point defeat by morning.

“Millions of new supporters now know the peril our state parks face because of persistent under-funding, and they know that more closures and cutbacks are imminent,” said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation.

The results came as a surprise to political observers familiar with campaign contribution filings on the Secretary of State’s website. They show Proposition 21 raking in $5.9 million in support.

That was an impressive sum compared to the opposition – they managed a measly $74,000 in contributions.

Even the measure’s opposition was surprised by the results.

“I was surprised by how big the margin was,” said Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association President Jon Coupal.

 “We had hoped that if we were going to go down that it wouldn’t have been with such a significant margin,” said Goldstein.

Apart from the disproportionate, financial bottom lines, Yes on 21 gained a variety of financial backers ranging from a gamut of individuals to conservation groups like The Nature Conservancy and the National Audubon Society.

The opposition disclosed funds from only two major donors: the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers and Enterprise Holdings.

But that wasn’t enough to compete with the attention some of this election’s other campaigns were taking in. The nature of this year’s election made it especially hard to catch voters’ attention, said Goldstein.

“It was just a big, complicated ballot. Over the last six months the amount of campaign information that was out there was just overwhelming,” said Goldstein.

But Coupal said the vote was a direct message from voters, who are broke and want less taxes.

“The rejection of Proposition 21…was a continuation of voter sentiment…California voters perceive themselves correctly as being overtaxed,” said Coupal.  “I would have rather they increase the entrance fees. Why should a single mom in Compton who never goes to the state parks subsidize my use of the state park?”

But while Yes on 21’s price tag was $5.9 million, the initiative would have brought in an additional $250 million in funds specifically allocated for state parks.  

Now, California state parks are likely to be decreasing their hours, allowing access only on weekends or a few months or weeks out of the year.

Restrooms, security, facility buildings will not receive necessary repairs and staffing while other parks will likely be forced to close entirely. Once they close, they become susceptible to various offers to sell and privatize the parks, said Goldstein.

“We had hoped Proposition 21 was going to be the safety net for state parks,” said Goldstein.

One thing is certain: The parks haves gained a lot of friends for the cause. Aside with a towering support group on Facebook, with 45,810 more “friends” than the opposition’s Facebook page, those who contributed the $5.9 million for the campaign will continue to help fund state parks in other ways, said Goldstein.    

“What’s surprising is the variety of interest groups that came forward and saw this as an issue they saw a little of themselves in,” said Goldstein.  

Supporters are optimistic that those friends will come in handy for the future.

“…The widespread and diverse coalition that rallied around the measure will strengthen the parks and conservation movement in the state,” responded the Yes on 21 campaign to the news of its loss.

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