This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Falling flat on their face wasn't part of the plan - but that is exactly what happened on election night. Despite all of the money, all the big-name backing and predictions of a double-digit victory, the open space ballot measure instead stumbled to a 10-point defeat (55-45), stunning supporters.
"This wasn't what our tracking polls were telling us and it's not what the exit polls were saying. So we're a little thrown by this, and very disappointed," Maura Carabello, vice president of Utahns for Clean Water, Clean Air and Quality Growth, said Wednesday.
Initiative supporters thought they would prevail for much of Tuesday night, bolstered by a pair of exit polls that projected 6- and 4-percentage point victories, respectively. But as midnight approached and the returns rolled in, the truth began to hit home.
The ballot measure, which called for a $150 million bond to purchase and preserve watersheds, wildlife habitat and ranch and farm land, was pummeled in rural Utah counties, often by more than a 2-to-1 margin. It didn't fare much better in urban Davis, Weber and Utah counties. But the real blow came in Salt Lake County, where the initiative wound up losing by nearly 1,000 votes. Only Summit and Grand counties endorsed it.
"We needed to win big in Salt Lake County, and we needed to do better in the bigger counties than we did," said Carabello
But Initiative One opponents said the ballot measure lost on its merits - or the lack of them.
"The citizens spoke very clearly," said Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, an outspoken critic of the initiative. "When the average citizen finally got a clear understanding of what it was, I think there was some concern. We tried to make it clear that we weren't opposing initiatives, but we did have problems with the way they went about doing this one."
If passed, Initiative One would have been financed by a one-twentieth of a cent sales tax increase, to be paid off over a maximum of 13 years. That amounted to about $14 per year for the average family. But initiative opponents claimed such an expenditure would have threatened the state's bond rating and limited lawmakers' ability to borrow for future capital projects.
Dave Livermore, director of the Utah chapter of the Nature Conservancy - the initiative's primary financial backer - called such charges "misinformation," but acknowledged the spectre of a tax hike may have played a role.
"It's a possibility," he said. "But the tax increase was so miniscule that it really was a false choice presented by opponents, who said it came down to roads, schools or the initiative. This was a hold-harmless measure."
Having even fewer answers were the pollsters. Only one firm - Valley Research, used by The Salt Lake Tribune - predicted the demise of Initiative One. But even they said it was a tough issue to call.
"Why we got it right and others didn't, I don't know," said pollster Dennis Guiver. "But we do know that ballot items are more volatile than partisan races."