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Attack of the crunchy conservatives'


Keith Gaddie March 15th, 2007

Norman cleanly broke free of the long-term domination of local politics by developers to elect a "smart-growth" mayor, Cindy Simon Rosenthal, over local developer Trey Bates.   Why did the race turn o...

Norman cleanly broke free of the long-term domination of local politics by developers to elect a "smart-growth" mayor, Cindy Simon Rosenthal, over local developer Trey Bates.
 
Why did the race turn out the way it did? The campaign pitted a strong grassroots-plus-mail effort by the smart-growth candidate (university, core-redevelopment type) against the top-down, targeted mail-and-phone-mobilization campaign by the other smart-growth candidate (suburban developer with Republican consultants). Rosenthal blitzed doors and took it to the streets. That's how you win in Norman.
 
This campaign demonstrated the difficulty of flipping the polarity of Norman politics. Perceiving a natural "left" bias in the city election turnout model, the Bates campaign was designed to change the turnout model for Norman elections by activating Republican primary voters, mainly west of Interstate 35. The model worked, in that voter turnout was up substantially from the last mayoral election. The voter-targeting effort also unleashed a feature of Norman politics that could become a feature of politics in metro Oklahoma City: conservatives who hate too much development.
 
It is the "attack of the crunchy conservatives," the middle-income homeowners who don't think that unbridled development is their friend. The New Republic's Rod Dreher coined the term five years ago, and it did not catch on. But, it is an apt description of the kind of conservative that makes places like Colorado Springs, Colo.; Jackson Hole, Wyo.; Boise, Idaho; and " dare I say " Norman possible. They go to church, register Republican and don't have faith in the inherent goodness of men. They shop at places like Dodson's Nutritional Food Center, recycle, and drive both a Suburban and a hybrid. These are the six-figure earners who still go to the YMCA and whom you see running and biking in large packs on Saturday mornings, down on the Ten Mile Flat. They like trees that are taller than western Texas post oaks, good local restaurants and overpriced Seattle coffee.
 
The critical crunchy voters last week, who live in the big brick boxes of the Brookhaven diaspora, looked around and saw developers who don't deliver on the promises of their planned neighborhoods. The crunchy con is concerned about too much traffic and expansion of residential development without consideration of the impact on the local schools and other infrastructure. He or she sees new developments going up while there is ample unsold housing stock that sits in existing neighborhoods.
 
Not many people in our fair city come away with warm fuzzies for home builders. Handing the mayor's office to a developer, even one as charming and positive as Bates, was a cul-de-sac too far in a city where other, condescending developers are viewed as the problem.
 
Norman voted for quality of life that is not defined by planned communities, but by something bigger, something intangible. We'll find out if the smart-growth crowd is good to its word. Norman already is considered to be a great place to live by Money Magazine (No. 40 in the nation), and the goals of the crunchy cons " a smart, nice, responsible place to live that isn't totally trapped by concrete and big-box shopping " could propel the city to the top of the ranks. Aspiring to be a small, high-quality city comes at a price, which is that it becomes more and more expensive to get in the door.

That's good for home equity, which also warms the heart of the crunchy conservative.
 
Gaddie is a professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma and partner in TvPoll.com.
 
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