Longmont fractivists overcame $443K campaign to pass ban

Leland Keller of Longmont at a November 2011 city council meeting
Photo by Jefferson Dodge

As organizers drew together for the campaign to ban fracking in Longmont, they faced a slew of obstacles, from explicit threats of lawsuits by the governor to being out-fundraised by the oil and gas industry by about $18 for every $1 donated to their campaign — and the industry’s campaign spending came out to $10 per active voter.

But when election day 2012 came, it saw Question 300, a ballot question on whether to ban fracking within Longmont city limits, pass with the decisive majority of votes: 59.9 percent. It passed in 50 of 55 voting precincts.

“Grassroots, of course, is extremely important, especially when you’re battling both government and industry like oil and gas,” says Kaye Fissinger, campaign manager for Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont, the campaign for Question 300.

The barrage of television ads, glossy mailers and the dozen or so full-page ads paid for by the campaign against Question 300, run by the political issue committee Main Street Longmont, actually created suspicion about the campaign among Longmont voters, she says. They’d seen big money at work in their campaigns before (see “Fiber power,” page 19) and weren’t having it again.

So Fissinger and her campaign took a more personal approach: The campaign made a goal of having one-on-one contact, face-to-face or by phone, with every active voter in the precincts they were targeting. That meant turning to more than 100 volunteers to knock on 8,000 doors, make 5,000 phone calls and distribute 12,000 pieces of literature.

“Most of the people involved were not seasoned activists, they were people who were just concerned for their health, their family’s health, their quality of life, their property values, and I don’t think most of them even understood what it was going to take to do that when they undertook it, because it really was a herculean effort,” Fissinger says.

And while Our Longmont saw total cash donations of just under $25,000, Main Street Longmont reported $443,483.40 in donations. Many of their donors — the American Petroleum Institute, Encana, Chevron and Nobel Energy — donated more to the Main Street Longmont campaign than the total amount Our Longmont received during the entire campaign.

Without hesitation, Fissinger says yes, she thought the campaign would be successful. They couldn’t afford polling to see how their efforts were working among voters, and relied on feedback gathered through phone banking and time spent with boots on the ground, but it seemed positive, and she even wondered if they’d approach that 60/40 split in the days coming up to the elections.

“I knew it was going to take a lot of work, but I felt like we were on the right side of history,” Fissinger says.

“I like to think of our democratic system as a scale, and this is how we think of it as a scale,” says Sam Schabacker, mountain west director for Food and Water Watch and a member of the steering committee for Our Longmont. “On one side, the oil and gas industry can pile on as much money as they want, it’s certainly more than we’ll ever be able to raise, and the other side is people and their votes. That’s what this is about. It’s communities versus corporations, and I think there’s no substitute for what we did in Longmont.”

The campaign drew from knowledge of the community itself — Fissinger became an activist shortly after moving to Longmont in 2006, and Schabacker, who says he’s been organizing for a decade, grew up near Longmont. The timing also just barely worked out. The two agreed that if it had been just a couple of weeks later when they found out about fracking initially, in a proposal for TOP Operating to drill on open space near Longmont, they might not have succeeded.

Now, both Fissinger and Schabacker are involved in Protect Our Colorado, an organization working to support anti-fracking movements around the state.

The three-pronged goals of Protect Our Colorado are to hold Gov. John Hickenlooper accountable for his role in protecting citizens instead of cheerleading for oil and gas development, work against legislation that protects companies over people and support local efforts to ban fracking. The organization is also planning a large action for the Democratic governors’ gathering in Aspen on July 13 to make the case that, as Schabacker says, “Good governors don’t frack their people.”

The group is pro-safety, pro-health, pro-Colorado’s economy, he says, and the goal is to keep the state a great place to live for future generations.

“A lot of the folks who are involved in fracking are not dyed-in-the-wool activists,” Schabacker says. “These are teachers, retirees, people who moved to Colorado and want to keep this a great place to live, and they think there’s something fundamentally wrong in placing this industrial activity right where their kids are going to school or where they’re raising their families.”

Protect Our Colorado has members from Adams, Boulder, Huerfano, Elbert and Routt counties, and cities that include Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Loveland. ProCo members are keeping an eye on the ongoing petition drives in Loveland, Lafayette, Broomfield and Fort Collins to put fracking moratoriums on the ballot this fall.

“When you have a success like this,” Fissinger says of Question 300, “it gives courage to others and reinforcement to others that they’re not alone.”

The judge handling the lawsuit over the fracking ban has recently approved a motion to intervene filed by Our Longmont, meaning they’ll be able to pursue defending their case even if the city decides it’s time to back down from defending the ban — a decision that falls to city council, the composition of which can change with this year’s elections.

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