Conservation groups, led by Ducks Unlimited, spent millions on trying to pass Measure 5 on the ballot earlier this month, and ended up getting just 20 percent of the vote. In fact, when supporters turned in their petitions to put it on the ballot the over 1,900 pages contained more than 41,000 signatures. When voters cast their ballots, just over 51,000 of them (or just roughly 10,000 more than signed the petitions) said “yes” on Measure 5.
Over two election cycles – including the effort in 2012 which was derailed by petition fraud – the conservationists spent more than $7.16 million to get roughly 10,000 more votes than petition signatures.
That works out to about $140 spent per vote.
Now Ducks Unlimited regional boss Steve Adair has written a letter to the Grand Forks Herald declaring victory because Measure 5 started a conversation.
“The Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks initiative elevated the outdoor dialogue to an unprecedented level,” Adair wrote. “Many of us are thinking about how to address the needs of our growing state, and how conservation, energy, agriculture and outdoor recreation should complement each other.”
That’s putting lipstick on the pig, I think. And if Ducks Unlimited is so awash in cash that they can spend vast sums of money just to “elevate the dialogue” (that’s not what really happened), perhaps the group’s donor base needs to take a long, hard look at what they’re getting for their money.
What Adair and his colleagues really accomplished with their ballot measure flop was alienating a vast swath of the electorate, not to mention most of the state’s policymakers, from their cause. After getting a win in the 2013 session (albeit a smaller one than they wanted) with the Outdoor Heritage Fund, Adair and others decided to eschew working to build on that project and instead take a swing for the fences.
A ballot measure which would have diverted hundreds of millions of tax dollars per a biennium with a spending mandate and no provisions to protect the state should revenues fall off or some emergency require the state move conservation down the list of priorities.
What was worse was that Adair and his cronies backed the measure with an expensive and ugly campaign that sought to win through aggressive political attacks as opposed to consensus building (perhaps they recognized that it would be impossible to build a true consensus behind such a bad idea).
Regardless, if groups like Ducks Unlimited were smart, they’d move personnel like Adair far from North Dakota where their ill-advised activism has made them pariah’s.
Few policymakers are interested in continuing any sort of a policy discussion with the likes of Steve Adair.