Friday, January 06, 2017

Voter Revolting (An Early Reminiscence)

One of my first jobs out of college was a short-lived gig with an operation called Voter Revolt. This must have been in late 1989 or 1990.

Our target was the ridiculously corrupt auto insurance industry in California. 

It was a grass roots movement of which I would have surely remembered more had I not quit after a week.

A quick web search returns results from Wikipedia which refreshes my memory and gives this anecdote some context:

In 1987, Harvey Rosenfield began to write a ballot box proposal and formed a campaign to sponsor it called Voter Revolt. The proposal turned into insurance reform Proposition 103 and promised voters a minimum 20% rollback in rates for property, auto and other kinds of insurance. It also required insurance companies to follow the state's consumer protection and civil rights laws. Voter Revolt operated on a $2.9 million budget, a fraction of the insurance industry's $63 million lobbying and advertising effort. The insurance industry, fearing they would not be able to defeat Proposition 103, launched three competing initiative measures in an attempt to confuse voters.
To bring attention to his cause, Rosenfield used grassroots publicity stunts like having guards accompany him while he delivered the signatures that put Proposition 103 on the ballot. As well, he attempted to deliver truckloads of cow manure to the headquarters Farmers Insurance of Los Angeles. Rosenfield often referred to insurance companies as "outlaws" during the campaign. These stunts, many 18-hour days, canvassers knocking on 1 million doors, and the high profile endorsement of his mentor, Ralph Nader, helped Voter Revolt pass the initiative in November 1988. The win was seen as a huge blow to the insurance industry. After Proposition 103 passed, Rosenfield told the Wall Street Journal that he gotten inquiries from public interest groups "in at least 30 other states expressing interest in launching Proposition 103-style initiatives."
Since then, Rosenfield, and his colleagues at Consumer Watchdog defended Proposition 103 from insurance industry attacks and ensured the proposition's implementation. In 2008, the Consumer Federation for America estimated that Proposition 103 had saved consumers over $63 billion since 1988.[2][3] That organization updated its estimate in 2013, concluding that Proposition 103 had saved California motorists over $100 billion, an average annual savings of $345 per household, $8,625 per family. Using insurance industry data, CFA found that "between 1989 and 2010, auto insurance premiums actually dropped by 0.3%, while they rose 43.3% nationally during that period. California was the only state in the nation where prices dropped over the 22 year period."
Rosenfield opposed Proposition 17, a $16 million attempt by Mercury Insurance Group to repeal a key provision of Proposition 103 in 2010; it was defeated. The company spent another $17 million on a very similar initiative in 2012; it too was defeated. In 2012, an initiative to control health insurance costs similarly to Prop 103 received over 800,000 signatures and earned a place on the 2014 ballot."
A big part of the fundraising effort was canvassing door to door.

I recall the one night I went out with the lead canvasser. It was a chilly southern California evening. It was dark early and the tension was palpable. We were anxious because we were in a community far to the east of Pasadena-Arcadia-Monrovia, I believe it was Glendora. The consensus at the time was that the area tended to be more conservative and the going would be rough. We were soliciting contributions to the campaign.

Knocking on doors and ringing doorbells in an unfamiliar area is stressful enough. But no one likes people disturbing them at home asking for money.  I don't recall either of us succeeding and the guy I was with was a seasoned canvasser. 

Despite the lack of success, I remember him being optimistic. "When you get a contribution, it's a great feeling," I recall him telling me. He added a quip that still brings a smile to my face: "And when you get a big contribution [pause for effect], I call it a doorgasm."

I quit the next day.

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