Anyone who tells you he or she knew the new Kansas City airport terminal would win 3-1 is lying.
Sure, lots of people predicted the measure would pass, perhaps easily. The most optimistic outsiders thought it might win by 10 points or so.
It won by 50 points.
That kind of landslide tells a story. Ballot measures don’t ring up that kind of victory on merits alone – other factors are involved. Here are some of them, with an estimate of how many points they added to the final margin.
▪ The new terminal project was more popular than anyone knew. +12.
For almost two years, the conventional wisdom in Kansas City was that there was serious resistance to a new terminal. That “knowledge” was based on a single poll, which suggested that less than 40 percent of voters thought the city should pursue a new terminal.
We now know the poll was wrong, or at least misleading. No issue moves from 40 percent to 75 percent approval in 18 months, no matter how good the campaign. It’s more likely there was solid support for the new terminal all along.
Monday-morning quarterbacks will claim private financing, first suggested by Burns & McDonnell, carried the day. But taxpayers were never going to pay for the airport under any financing scheme.
The no-taxpayer money claim probably moved some votes, but not enough to fully explain the wave.
▪ Selecting Edgemoor Infrastructure was a masterstroke. +9
Choosing an out-of-town firm to design and build the terminal took any claims of collusion or secret dealing off the table.
Mayor Sly James was right when he said most voters ignored the chaotic selection process, but picking Edgemoor ensured the procurement would be a non-issue. That left opponents with nothing to grasp as the election neared the end.
▪ The Northland is changing. +8
KCI’s support south of the river was predictable, but the traditional fiscal conservatism in Clay and Platte counties appears to be fading away, making the city more politically homogenous.
▪ Campaigns are changing. Again. +8
Sure, the Better KCI folks were on TV, but the bigger impact likely came from town hall meetings, targeted campaign materials, turnout modeling and get-out-the-vote efforts. That’s the way elections were won 75 years ago, minus today’s sophisticated technology.
▪ Mayor James helped. Or not. +7
Kansas City will argue for months over James’ role in the campaign. Did he jeopardize the terminal by pushing for a no-bid project in May, or did he save it by stumping for the Edgemoor plan in the fall?
We'll eventually figure it out. For now, credit where it’s due: Mayors Emanuel Cleaver and Kay Barnes lost big-ticket votes. James has not.
▪ The Donald Trump effect. +6
The shock many voters felt a year ago has turned into resolve: Don’t take government for granted. Kansas Citians studied the issues, talked with friends and neighbors, and turned out to vote.
Resistance, it turns out, involves casting ballots.
Added together – the campaign, the issue, the mayor, the Trump effect – KCI supporters turned a solid win into something historic.
Can such a landslide victory be replicated? Perhaps. Anyone who tells you he or she knows for sure is lying.