Waage fliers drag down the campaign

May 19, 2012 

Here’s a question for all you voters.

If you opened your mailbox and pulled out a campaign flier in which one candidate attacked another for being “99 percent dishonest” and “juvenile,” among other pejorative terms, would you wonder about the character of the person being verbally eviscerated or that of the candidate wielding the buzz saw?

I fall into the second category. Candidates who resort to name-calling, in my experience, usually do so because they don’t have much else going for them.

Furthermore, calling someone else “99 percent dishonest” is, well, juvenile. It’s first-grade stuff.

This is not an academic discussion. We have this kind of campaign being waged right here in the Happiest Town in America.

I expect Romney and Obama to slice and dice each other, sadly. Is it naïve to think that we are above that on a local level?

We had a nice little election for state Assembly a couple of years back in which the two candidates, Katcho Achadjian and Hilda Zacarias, pledged to run a clean campaign. They kept their word. Both exited the election with their integrity and dignity intact.

Down and dirty

Alas, no such dynamic is at play in the race for county supervisor between Ed Waage and Adam Hill.

This campaign is down and dirty, and — let’s not pretend disingenuously that there is equivalency between the candidates’ approaches — it is Waage who is taking it there. Hill has not mentioned his opponent in his mailers.

This is all the more surprising given the reflective, elder statesman persona Waage seeks to project.

Like your faithful scribe, Waage turns 70 this year, and those of us of the septuagenarian persuasion like to look back at the many deep lessons we’ve learned so that we can magnanimously share them with the rest of you whippersnappers.

Waage comes across like that. During an editorial board interview with The Tribune, at a radio debate on KCBX, and in other venues he has presented himself as a deliberative man with a scientific approach.

His positions are nuanced, sometimes exquisitely so. He can and does go on at length about the science surrounding global warming.

So seeing him sticking his tongue out and, metaphorically, chanting “nyah nyah” seems oddly out of character.

As to the charges against Hill that he references, I’ll be brief because they have been covered to death.

One has to do with Hill’s handling of combative public speakers, a conundrum that has troubled all supervisory chairpersons.

The question is, where do you draw the line before you ask a speaker to cool it? At personal insult? At slander? At mention of family? Waage doesn’t like where Hill has drawn it, but will not say how he would act because “I don’t like to get into answering ‘what if’ questions.”

No failures

The other Waage attack follows the infamous January prank phone call from Hill to friend and supporter Sheila Blake, in which Hill misrepresented himself as Waage and called her a communist. Blake didn’t realize it was Hill at first, and when she found out she said, it’s a joke, let’s just forget the whole thing and move on.

But Waage has exploited that phone call for four months, so aggressively that Blake had to ask him publicly in a letter to The Tribune on Friday to back off. Meanwhile, a Waage supporter is sending a robo call containing a version of the phone call.

The continued presence of these bogus issues creates the very valid question of why Waage is sticking with them. I think he gave a hint during the editorial board interview here.

When asked to cite a failure during his term in office as a Pismo Beach city councilman, Waage said there had “been no failures.”

That’s telling.

I think Waage is slow and methodical in making decisions, but once he has made them he does not second-guess himself. He decided in January that there was something nefarious about the Hill-Blake phone call, and nothing is going to shake him from that.

Similarly, he has made up his mind that Hill is rude. Don’t bother him with context, people who say otherwise, or the long history of contentiousness between all board chairmen and the Los Osos contingent.

Waage’s mailers have created a backlash. I have received numerous calls from steamed voters who use adjectives and phrases like “pure hatchet job,” “rude,” “personal,” “nasty” and “below the belt.”

Caution: boomerang

It has also caused an old campaign exaggeration of Waage’s to resurface, proving that, when you run for public office, you’d best be careful about hurling the “character” issue — it’s a boomerang.

When Waage ran for City Council, he said he shared a Nobel Peace prize. Impressive, eh? Right up there with Nelson Mandela, Doctors Without Borders and Mother Teresa.

The fuller truth, however, is that Waage was one of 2,000 staffers at the International Atomic Energy Agency when it shared the prize with the agency’s top dog, Mohamed ElBaradei.

Waage doesn’t refer to that any more, and The Tribune never wrote it up because we didn’t consider it any more newsworthy than the prank phone call, which we also didn’t cover. But it’s out there in the trollo-sphere now.

The election is June 5. Hill is running on his record. There is still time for Waage to say what he would do differently.

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