Savvy campaign allows Referendum 2B to defy anti-tax logic

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— The committee that succeeded in persuading 61 percent of Steamboat Springs voters to impose a 0.25 percent sales tax on themselves to bolster the community’s ski season jet program got it done with a mix of old-school campaigning, savvy use of social media and a good dose of unabashed shtick.

Steamboat restaurateur Lizzie Larock, who injected much of her own personality into the campaign, recalls the first time she and Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association employees Shelly Bisbee and Marion Taylor ventured out on a fall afternoon wearing fake airline pilot caps.

“We thought about throwing a party every week. But then we thought, ‘Why not just go out to where everyone already gathers?’ Shelly and Marion and I realized nobody will know why we’re wearing these hats,” said Larock, who owns Old Town Pub. “It was a beautiful fall day, and we started out at the Pub and went on to the Rio, then Carl’s and Sweetwater and back to Carl’s. By the end, everyone was tracking us down to have a picture taken.”

Taylor, who is the Chamber’s director of finance and human resources, identifies with restaurant employees, too.

“I came up through the restaurants. That’s how I got where I am,” Taylor said. “That represents all my friends.”

By wearing their pilot caps to local restaurants, they reached not only people in the food-service industry but also a large group of working people in Steamboat who congregate at restaurants and bars.

From there, it was a natural step for Larock to post photos of the happy people in the airline pilot caps on the Yes 2 Air Facebook page.

“I’ve never been involved with a political campaign before,” Larock said. “I’m a social person, but it would be hard for me to knock on doors. But it feels like Facebook was made for me.”

The hats became the ultimate icebreaker and a rallying point for a group of community leaders flying into the teeth of a recession with a sales tax increase.

The campaign also included such traditional strategies as newspaper advertising, a phone campaign and neighborhood meetings.

Committee Chairman Bill Stuart said at the foundation of it all was a commitment to taking a personal approach to persuading voters that there was a direct connection between their household income and the mission of restoring the number of inbound airline seats that serve the Steamboat market during ski season.

“What we perceived is that you have a large group of people with families who are trying to make a living here, and it’s not easy,” Stuart said. “They have jobs or a business, and it’s tough times. You explain to them how the airline program works, and they become supporters,” Stuart said.

Stuart, who founded La Montaña with his wife, Kay, said he understands how many people make a good living in the restaurant industry during the heart of the ski season.

“They know the exact day when their incomes go up, and it’s not the day the ski area opens,” Stuart said. “It’s the day in mid-December when the planes start flying.”

But Larock, Stuart and Taylor also understood that a significant number of other industries in Steamboat depend heavily on the dollars that tourism brings to the community. They recruited electricians, plumbers and retailers to appear in a newspaper campaign in support of Referendum 2B that bolstered the impression among voters that diverse segments of the community were in support of the tax.

Stuart said a telephone campaign was put in place but that the bulk of it involved volunteers scanning a list of active voters obtained from the Routt County Clerk and Recorder’s Office for names of people they knew. Instead of cold-calling voters from a list, Stuart said, they placed calls to people with whom they already had a relationship. Only toward the end of the campaign did they use a robo call by Olympic medalist Todd Lodwick to remind people to turn in their mail ballots.

Facebook became a place to build a community around the tax measure, with videos involving local troubadours and personalities.

Chamber Chief Executive Officer Tom Kern probably knocked on 100 doors in his neighborhood to make the case for Referendum 2B, Larock said. But Facebook became the 2011 version of knocking on doors. In this case, volunteers reached out from the Yes 2 Air page to “friend” acquaintances.

“We knew when we started we didn’t want it to be partisan,” Stuart said. “We wanted to reach people on a personal level. We had a lot of people work very hard on this.”

In an off-year election when a statewide measure to increase funding for public education struggled to get 40 percent of the vote in Routt County, the committee boosting a sales tax to support ski season jet flights put a very personal strategy in place to draw 60 percent of Steamboat voters. It’s perhaps even more remarkable considering the fate of almost every other tax-related measure across Routt County and Colorado on Tuesday night.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

Scott Wedel 2 years, 9 months ago

Well, pressure is on to bring in the 44,000 additional guests bringing in $44M additional revenues claimed as fact by Mr Kern Chamber CEO in his letter to the editor.

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steamboatsprings 2 years, 9 months ago

Avoiding the downside of losing more flights is more than worth it and this gives us a credible path forward to regain seats. Nothing is a guarantee in life except this this case we know we would lose further seats if addl funding was not secured.

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Kevin Chapman 2 years, 9 months ago

From the information i gathered the funding currently in place was to stay until 2014, and on top of that the ski area is ultimately responsible for any funding shortfall. So have we just been tricked into paying for it with taxation rather than letting a business carry the burden it agreed to in the first place? I think we have. And yes there is some guarantees in life death and taxes right? More seats does not equal more people. Weren't we having a hard time filling the seats we previously offered? Doesn't anyone see that the ski area dumped tons of money into this campaign to fleece the city of Steamboat?

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1999 2 years, 9 months ago

excatly steamboatnucs.

total sham that too many fell for.

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greyrider 2 years, 9 months ago

Guy’s, the campaign is over now and, by hook or crook, you got the votes needed to push this publicly funded crutch through. Congrats. You can stop with the fluff and explanations now, you won. Stuart’s right, times are tough, people are struggling and your crew just made it a little bit harder for us. And if this tax isn’t big enough how much will you want next year, or the years after? Now that the ball is rolling where is it going to stop except on the backs of the residents of SBS and the surrounding area? Fortress has millions of dollars invested here, how can anyone believe they would let that much investment fail? If 2B had failed they had another plan ready to go to secure the funding elsewhere, bet on it. Question is, how many local businesses will be touting their support for 2B in the future, especially if it doesn’t work the way they are betting (our money) it will? I would love to see the Pilot publish a concise list of all the businesses that pushed for this. Exduffer and others say if we don’t like it we should move out. Frankly, I know a lot of good, hard working people who have been forced out over the last few years, and I feel many more will be going before things turn around. But that’s OK, I’m sure you guys can pick up the slack in local revenue.

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ralph cantafio 2 years, 9 months ago

Let me provide my take on the entire issue as to the ski industry and how this ties into Ref 2B

  • I am very concerned that what I perceive to be the current economic model of the ski and tourist industry in our town is badly broken. The mere fact that an industry that is now almost 50 years old requires this type of subsidy in the first place underscores a very significant systemic problem.

  • Part of the problem is the fact that the industry as a whole went from one that catered to the elite - certainly not entirely, but substantially - in the 1940's and 50's to a much more "everyman" clientele in the 60's and 70's and now back to an industry that caters again to the elite. If you do not think that is the case just consider the price of an out of town family of 4 to spend a week in Steamboat during the ski season. Also, consider the growth we have noted in the local summer tourism trade - which is really a more well rounded class of individuals from an economic point of view.

  • But for the unexpected and one time addition of snow boarding to the landscape of the industry that brought in a newer generation of consumers all of these trends would be much more pronounced at this time. An aging community - both local and tourist - creates its own set of challenges.

  • Studies tend to show that the younger generations are far less interested in second home ownership than the "baby boomers". Obviously, none of this is dispositive and this trend (if true) might in part actually be better than worse for the overall local economy. However, I suspect that this circumstance will put more pressure on businesses to perform in the ski season because the anticipated drop offs during the mud season and the fall are going to be more - not less - pronounced as years go by. Further, because skiing and snow boarding are more of a younger person sport than that for those as they move from their 50's to 70's, an inability to attract younger individuals into our community whether by jobs or tourist dollars is a source of concern.

Had Ref 2B not passed, I suspect all of this instability would have been exposed sooner rather than later. Considering the economic circumstance we currently find ourselves that would not have been a pleasant thing. However, make no mistake. Ref 2B at best needs to be looked at as a bandaid - and nothing more. If a collective approach by the ski mountain, our local hotel and restaurant community, the city and county, etc. do not start undertaking meaningful examination of all of these trends not even Ref 2B in the long run is going to save this economic patient. Solutions that might have been appropriate in the 1990's or such are not going to solve any of these long term, systemic issues. Ref 2B buys time - literally and figuratively. It solves absolutely nothing.

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steamboatsconscience 2 years, 9 months ago

Ralph So you're saying they are kicking the can down the road and we are the can? I agree.

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greyrider 2 years, 9 months ago

Ralph, Excellent post. Very well thought out. Nothing more than a 1.3 million dollar band-aid (on a bullet wound).

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jerry carlton 2 years, 9 months ago

Start advertising our medical MMJ all over the country. Hire a quack to live here and write prescriptions wholesale and we can become the Amsterdam of the United States. We can close the ski area and the restraunts will do great because all the tourists will be smoking pot full time and hungry constantly. I still bet taxes would not go down.

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steamboatsconscience 2 years, 9 months ago

Since carlton the doorman cant see me since I dont exist to him would someone please tell him to quit whining, grow up and get over it. Thanks.

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Kevin Nerney 2 years, 9 months ago

Greyrider-- you have it right about Fortress having millions (however not as many as they use to since their stock went from 47 to 18?) however what guarantee do we as taxpayers have that Fortress will even own the mountain in 5 years. Or does this tax, raise the value of the mountain to prospective buyers?

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Kevin Nerney 2 years, 9 months ago

Check that Fortress Investment Group (sym FIG) closed today at $3.60

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BeCoolHoneyBunny 2 years, 9 months ago

Ski Corps,

The people of Steamboat just gave you your funding. Now it's your turn to give back. Please offer a locals discount for season passes.

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bill schurman 2 years, 9 months ago

Corporate welfare. Will the Department of Social Services be involved?

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pitpoodle 2 years, 9 months ago

Mr. Cantafio, Your comments are quite correct. However, it is usually more effective to speak up before the the fox is in the hen house and before a vote to raid the hen house. BeCool; maybe there will be a local's discount when hell freezes over.

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cindy constantine 2 years, 9 months ago

Thanks Ralph. You are spot on. What is interesting to me is the participants on the blog did not support the tax by a margin of probably 9 to 1. In addition the online poll the paper had prior to the election had 2B going down by the smallest of margins. So the people who voted for the issue probably got on the bandwagon without doing much research as to how the tax would affect their family over the next 5 years nor did they give any thought to how this would help big business. It was amazing to me that the voters to really thought it would affect their job. But the local voters had no trouble voting down a tax to help education. Total disconnect in my opinion.

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sledneck 2 years, 9 months ago

Mr Cantafio, Your analysis seems insightful.

Why don't you give us a similar analysis of how attorneys such as yourself have utterly screwed up this nations legal system.?

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cindy constantine 2 years, 9 months ago

Sled--Was that really necessary and BTW totally off topic - - - - again.

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sledneck 2 years, 9 months ago

Sorry Cindy. I just couldn't help myself there. I got a really bad opinion of lawyers. Can't imagine why... I guess that's what happens when you're wrongfully sued.

Besides, I really thought Mr C had a really well thought-out argument for the ski thing and I figured he would be even more knowledgeable about his own profession, thats all.

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