Politics Editor Louis DuBose examines the ramifications of the Presidential and Light Rail votes.
In the press tent on Congress Ave. between 1 and 3am Wednesday, packs of reporters huddled around a half-dozen big-screen monitors, watching Gore close the gap that separated him from Bush in Florida. Even while Bush led by some 20,000 votes, the 95,000 votes for Nader somehow looked like enough to move Florida and its 25 electoral votes into the Gore column -- even taking into account the voters who would have chosen not to vote had Nader not been on the ballot. By the time Bush's lead was cut to less than 1,300 votes, no one could make the argument that there weren't enough disgruntled Democrats among Nader's 95,000 to win Florida and the presidency for Al Gore. Or more importantly, to deny it to George W. Bush.
In a very real sense, those of us who supported Nader collaborated in double disaster. Not only did the Nader effort make George W. Bush president (unless the vote recount in Florida moves the election back to Gore), it failed to win the 5% of the popular vote that would get the Green Party funding in the next presidential election. The argument against the lesser-of-two-evils vote works best when the distinction between the two evils is nominal. The political appointments, judicial appointments, educational policy, and assault on the environment that will occur in a George W. Bush administration will likely make a lot of us deeply regret the Al Gore administration that never was.
The defeat of the light rail referendum is harder to explain. Chuck McDonald, a political consultant hired by the rail proponents, tried to explain it in his concession speech at Palmer Auditorium, when he said the rail opponents had an instant constituency: "people who vote no." Rail proponents invested almost a half-million dollars in an effort to persuade voters to support Capital Metro's light rail proposal. The proposal's failure, said Ross Garber, the Vignette co-founder who invested heavily in the rail campaign, proves that "tech people are mortal and have two arms and two legs, just like everyone else."
Standing in the rain on Congress Ave., Chronicle reporter Robert Bryce suggested that there was a lack of a clear message by the pro-rail camp. Garber didn't disagree, but he described light rail as a hard sell. "Folks that have it, unanimously love it -- across the country," he said. "Coming from a tech guy that's used to selling brands and products, it's the most unusual combination I've seen in 20 years of being in the industry. It's a great product that's loved across America, that no one is sure they want to buy."
Unlike the presidential election, there is no short-term consequence in the defeat of the light rail proposal. It'll make no difference in our lives for the next decade. Bush would be a lame duck in his second term before even the first stage of the defeated project might have been completed. But as Garber suggested, in 50 years we will have some idea of how badly we failed.