In many political circles it’s assumed that spending a lot of cash to get the message out is the key to winning elections. Because if you spend enough on advertising, no matter how misleading your message is, you’ll get your name out there and overcome your opponent.
Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t.
The recent election is Lompoc produced some interesting results.
The Lompoc Unified School District placed another school bond on the ballot that would be paid for by property owners throughout the district. The measure was heavily supported by the local teacher’s union. It was very broad and covered everything from full building renovations to laptop computers.
Even though the union invested large quantities of cash, as of this this writing the measure has failed to get the required 55 percent for the third time in recent history.
Two City Council district seats were available, but apart from the incumbents, no one qualified for the ballot. These two councilmen didn’t have to have to spend any money except the modest fee to have their name placed on the ballot; they didn’t even submit candidate statements so you could see what their policy positions were.
This is a sad testimony to the public interest in serving our city. In one of these districts someone did try to qualify for the ballot, but didn’t get enough signatures on their application from within the district boundaries.
My conclusion here is that if they didn’t even know what population they were going to serve, they probably wouldn’t have been a very good councilmember.
In the 2020 election one councilmember ran unopposed and still got over 3,000 votes, which you could say was a “vote of confidence” on her past record. In this election the unopposed, in districts of the same size, didn’t do as well, which could lead one to believe their following is slim or people felt it wasn’t necessary to vote for them because they would only need one vote to win.
The mayor’s race was much different. One candidate outspent the other by a wide margin, but it didn’t help. In the 2016 election the same thing happened when another former mayor outspent his opponent and lost.
Why did this happen? Both losers were businessmen and had wide name recognition; both had previously been elected; and both broadcast their claims of programs that would “save the city” in print, mailers, and broadcast media.
Their “vote for me” signs were everywhere, giving the impression they had more support than their opponent. In the recent election the losing candidate posted almost a dozen signs on property where his long-abandoned restaurant is located. That didn’t help either.
Why it happened was really very simple. In a small community like Lompoc our politicians’ records are easily researched. When someone claims they did something or advocated for something like public safety, but their voting record and public statements undermine that claim, people don’t forget.
And if a politician takes an action that winds up costing the city government, and taxpayers a substantial loss because of court settlements or punitive action by state or federal government regulators, they don’t forget either.
Money can spell the difference in regional, statewide and national elections where names and faces aren’t widely known, but in a small town it’s the veracity of the message and the candidates’ public records that matter the most.
In Lompoc, honesty,and integrity win elections; not slick brochures, hyper advertising, and grand claims of past success stories that have no merit.
So, a memo to future candidates: Make sure you know what district you are living in before you get signatures to qualify yourself for elective office; you don’t need a lot of cash to win, just tell the truth; and provide viable solutions to the problems you think exist, and you’ll probably be successful.
— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry. He has been following Lompoc politics since 1992, and after serving for 23 years appointed to various Lompoc commissions, retired from public service. The opinions expressed are his own.