Frank Atwood's Campaign Report

The Colorado Freedom Report:  A libertarian journal of politics and culture.

The Colorado Freedom

Frank Atwood's Campaign Report

[Frank Atwood was involved in the campaign to repeal the grocery tax in Littleton. Following is his account of the effort.]

October 30

Fellow Libertarians, I've been very lucky this 2003 election season to be involved with a press-worthy campaign to reduce and then repeal the grocery tax in the city of Littleton, Colorado. The press has been very kind to our tri-partisan effort. Ari Armstrong of the Colorado Freedom Report has on numerous occasions asked me to write up something for him, but I never have until now. While the election was still in limbo and playing itself out, I just did not want to speculate in print. Now, the Thursday before the mail-in election ends on Tuesday, I feel I can comment without jinxing the election. I concur with the Rocky Mountain News: "It's too close to call." I'm very optimistic, but experience has subdued my optimism.

I've participated in too many hopeless Libertarian campaigns. This election season, I wanted a SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, trackable) goal. My 2003 New Year's resolution is, "Be part of a winning campaign." I've kissed too many frogs, and none of them (Harry Browne, Steven Lee, Ron Baine, Ralph Shnelvar) has turned into a winning prince, yet.

What I especially liked about the grocery tax issue is I assumed it was easily attainable -- a "no brainer." The liberals would sign up because we were doing away with a regressive tax and the conservatives because we were doing away with a tax. No such luck: a lot of voters are concerned with the loss of $600,000 of city services, even though it's less than 1% of the city's total budget and even the city's own budget projections estimate only a $50,000 shortfall. One council member called the tax "wrong," and then voted to continue it. This baits the punch line: "We've establish what you are, we're now quibbling over the price." I only claim that it is "unfair." Another council member commented that there was no line item identified as waste and that he would have the burden of identifying where any cuts would be -- I thought that was a consequence of being in office. Is my trust in him to make those kinds of tough decisions misplaced?

If we win, then credit goes to teamwork and luck. We listened to others, maybe not enough, but we did listen. Thank you all who contributed by thoughts, words, deeds, or money -- you made this effort possible! Again, THANK YOU! Somehow our team had all the elements of a royal court: ruler, sage, magician, and jester. The roles fluctuated for different tasks, but things got done.

We listened to Montrose, and we have gone with a proposal to first reduce and then repeal the tax. Halve the tax this January 2004, and zero it out in January 2005. It's less shocking to the city's budget this way.

Teamwork has been critical. I'd like to write this up with me as the leader, but I was a member of a wonderful team. Different phases required different skills, and, with a team, we were able to compensate for others' shortcomings. Specifically, numerous Libertarians compensated for my inadequacies in collecting 300 signatures -- thank you. Conversely, I did plant 75 yard signs.

Luck -- we got a lot of newspaper ink spent on us. I wish we could say we had a publicity agenda and scheme, but the coverage was gratuitous. Initially, we got press because of a Libertarian article, then emphasis on the tri-partisan effort, then the city trying to minimize us, then great editorials from newspapers, then straight reporting. We were lucky.

Some Libertarians rightly criticize my Libertarian purity. They argue sales taxes are open and voluntary. I think Colorado's Constitution makes us an exception: we have Douglas Bruce's TABOR (Taxpayer's Bill of Rights) that prevents the city council from raising hidden taxes without presenting the issue to the voters. With regards to sales tax on groceries being voluntary, I think food consumption is minimally voluntary (ha, ha) -- I'll live with the criticism.

More luck came our way this election. Every odd year, four of the seven City Council members stand for election. Too often they run unopposed. This year an arrogant city council harvested challengers for every seat. We set the policy issues for the challengers, and they were the personalities advancing our agenda. The best proof that city council hubris brought this about is three of the four challengers were former city council members who came out of retirement because they are disappointed in current council behavior.

No matter the outcome, I must remember Robert Bruce's perseverance. If we win, I will promptly forget how easily we could have lost. So, please remind me that Robert Bruce (1274 - 1379) needed a seventh campaign (Bannockburn 1314) to win Scottish independence from English rule.

November 1

I'm still awaiting results -- three days to go.

I stress and bore a lot of you with the significance of the OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decision and Action Loop). I also believe the only adverse consequence of denial is that, at times, it can jeopardize survival. Am I in denial about the election results? Is my orientation realistic?

I'm beginning to believe that we'll bat 400: the grocery tax measure and one of the four city council candidates will win.

BUT, if we bat zero, it indicates that I'm suffering too much denial and need to orient myself with reality. I will need to "go home" and think very hard about what I'm doing and how I'm doing it. I hope election results will preclude me from that much soul searching.

If we bat 200, then I feel that shows the power of incumbency. 400 is what I expect -- anything better will be very lucky. But if we bat 800 or 1,000, then this city council has generated far more enemies than anyone has suspected -- which, even to me, seems very unlikely -- but it's possible.

The results are very mysterious. I think the quote about advertising is so applicable. "Half the money spent on advertising is wasted, it's just that no one knows which half." Despite too many campaigns, I sure don't know where my efforts are most beneficial and productive, or what the results will be.

November 5

Election results: we won. Our effort to reduce and then repeal the grocery tax got 5,633 votes (62%), the highest percentage in Littleton's elections this year. Thank you everyone. Success is tempered by the fact that only one of the four council members who supported us also won. Coming back to my baseball analogy, we batted, what I expected, 400 -- the tax repeal and one council member. For that council member, it will be tough being a lone voice of reason on this council. Another council candidate that I was cheering for lost by 66 votes -- 4%, a toughie. I really wish he had won. How lucky I am to have any victory, and of course it is tempered by losses.

The campaign is now over. It's time to stay married and go fix the basement toilet.

A Note by Ari Armstrong

Atwood told me his reference to Libertarian criticism of his efforts comes from an October 2003 letter printed in LP News. Hank Moody quotes Atwood from a previously published article in LP News: "The tax is unfair; it disproportionately taxes the poor. It is a regressive tax." Then Moody comments, "The most fervent bleeding-heart liberal could not have taken a more socialist stand. Better the towns should adopt a progressive income tax, I suppose." Apparently Moody has never studied logic. Critiquing a tax because it hurts the poor in no way implies support for socialism or a progressive income tax.

Moody continues, "Libertarians would be wise to quietly support the increased use of sales taxes to support government, while loudly criticizing many other types of tax. Why? For one thing, sales taxes are truly equal. Rich and poor pay alike. What Libertarian can argue with equality?" At the same time, Moody refers to "self-proclaimed Libertarians in Montrose and Littleton," and he asks, "Are we sure they are really Libertarians?" But Libertarians, unlike Moody, seize the opportunity to cut an expendable tax and thereby reduce unnecessary government spending.

As Atwood suggests, Moody ignores Colorado law that prevents tax increases without voter approval. (Moody does not, however, claim that sales taxes are "voluntary," as Atwood suggests.) Moody's criticism is unfair and unreasoned.

The Colorado Freedom