It is with sadness that I learned of the passing of a friend and colleague a few days ago. Blair Butterworth was a prominent political consultant in the Northwest where he lived for over 40 years. Blair was an integral part of the Don’t Bankrupt Washington campaign to pass Initiative 394 in 1981. The voters passed the initiative with a 58% yes vote. It was the first loss for the Winner /Wagner Associates – the nuclear industry’s PR firm after they successfully beat back many attempts across the country to limit or stop nuclear power expansion.
Rather than running the campaign as a nuclear safety or environmental issue, the campaign was centered around the ever increasing financial costs of building nuclear power plants. In Washington State, the Washington Public Power Supply System, committed to trying to build 5 nuclear power plants. Two were slated for Satsop and three in the Tri-Cities in eastern Washington.
Costs escalated from an initial estimate of $4 billion to over $24 billion before it all came tumbling down, resulting in the biggest municipal bond default in US history at the time. Unsuccessful attempts were made in the Washington State Legislature to control the costs but they were unsuccessful. In 1980 a group called SAVES – Support a Vote on Energy Spending attempted to get signatures to put an initiative on the ballot. At the same time those opposed to nuclear power almost were collecting signatures on an initiative to ban nuclear waste coming to Hanford. Grassroots support was stretched and in the end only the Don’t Waste Washington initiative got on the ballot. It was passed by voters.
In December I met with the people involved in the SAVES effort and informed them that I was going to refile the initiative and push it as Don’t Bankrupt Washington. Some changes were made in the drafting – the most significant long term being to add a requirement that cost effectiveness studies must be done on all large public power plants (over 250 MW) before they could issue bonds. This was in addition to receiving a public vote of support from the areas that the public utility districts in WPPSS served who would be purchasing the power.
The cost effectiveness study provision was added after I consulted with Jim Lazar – a consulting economist in Olympia. It turned out to represent a significant change in energy policy dynamics in our state, especially after studies were done on the WPPSS project that showed it was less expensive to generate new energy from other sources like energy efficiency and renewable energy than from huge costly centralized nuclear power plants.
Blair Butterworth became involved as the campaign moved forward by helping to raise needed funds and developing our campaign message. Thanks to Blair it eventually became a campaign of national significance. He helped recruit the polling firm of Dresner, Morris and Tortelli. Dick Morris was the main pollster we worked with. Morris subsequently went on to be a consultant for Bill Clinton before he became the right wing writer and adviser for conservative Republican campaigns.
When polling showed there was strong public support for our initiative, we were able to reach out with Blair’s connections and know how to raise national money. I went to New York and Washington DC with Blair to present our campaign to national funders. With Blair’s help we were able to raise over $65,000 on this trip, including a $45,000 donation from Alida Rockefeller Dayton.
Our stop in New York took us to a meeting with Tony Schwartz, who liked what we were doing, and agreed to do our ads for one third of his normal cost.. Tony Schwartz is best known for having produced the famous “daisy ad” during the Johnson/Goldwater Presidential campaign. The ad only aired once, never mentioned Goldwater, but the result was a precipitous 15 percentage point drop in Goldwater’s support immediately afterward. He authored several books, including “The Responsive Chord” in which he argued that ads didn’t really change voters views but tapped into what they already believed.
Blair’s campaign advice was invaluable throughout the campaign. Initiative 394 won by 58% of the vote on election day despite the nuclear industry setting a statewide spending record at the time by spending over $1.25 million dollars. We raised some $200,000 which at the time was also a record for grassroots initiative campaigns in our state.
The Don’t Bankrupt Washington campaign was written up in more detail in the book, “Citizen Lawmakers – The ballot Initiative Revolution” by David D Schmidt in 1989. The campaign was an exciting time for grassroots campaigns and Blair was a great associate and key to our success.
Blair was involved in many other campaigns. You can read more about Blair’s life at:
“Blair Butterworth, top political consultant is dead“, Strange Bedfellows, Seattle PI,March 29, 2013
“Obituary: Strategist Blair Butterworth helped Democrat win elections“, Seattle Times, March 29, 2013
“Prominent Political Consultant Blair Butterworth Has Died“, Seattle Weekly, March 29, 2013
Fond Memories of an Extraordinary Man, by Blair Butterworth, Seattle Times , March 22, 2005