Dishonest campaigns and deceptive electioneering are distasteful staples of the American political diet.
Unfortunately, they’ve also become political junk food in San Luis Obispo County.
Nationally, we expect candidates to distort truth, fabricate controversy, claim they talk to Jesus, wrap themselves in the flag and whatnot.
Here at home, we’re still getting used to such nonsense.
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An example of this political perfidy is a recent column by John Peschong, featuring words from San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx distorted to make it appear she disrespects emergency workers.
“ Marx criticized our local emergency responders,” Peschong wrote. “She claimed our responders are not ‘trained or equipped’ to protect our communities in the face of an emergency.”
While the surgically extracted quote is technically correct, the distortion is devious.
Marx wrote an op-ed arguing our first responders aren’t ready for massive oil train bombs of the kind exploding back east.
Her actual words: “Our emergency responders are simply not funded, trained or equipped to deal with a disaster of the magnitude threatened by this project. If there were an oil disaster in our community, we taxpayers would be stuck with the bill for firefighting, hazardous material cleanup and repair of infrastructure.”
Marx was right: Proponents of the Phillips 66 rail spur project haven’t addressed how communities up and down the line would prepare or pay for such emergencies.
The Tribune ran Marx’s quote in context right next to Peschong’s piece. This spared us having to Google her op-ed to confirm she’d been taken grossly out of context.
Peschong perniciously twisted her words to make it look like he and like-minded “conservatives” side with first responders while “liberal” Marx doesn’t — and, by inference, nor do oil train opponents.
Offended readers responded: “You really have to work hard to misconstrue Jan Marx as criticizing our local firefighters,” wrote one. Another objected: “ you spun Mayor Marx’s valid concerns into something nasty to score some cheap political points. That’s pure sleaze .”
Calumny isn’t limited to columnists.
Congresswoman Lois Capps proffered an egregious misrepresentation in 2014 with a TV spot that practically murdered the meaning of the words of her opponent, Chris Mitchum.
The ad featured Mitchum saying, “I do not intend to go to Washington, D.C., to represent the 24th District.” His full statement: “I do not intend to go to Washington, D.C., to represent the 24th District to bring back baseball fields, that’s not why I am going. I am going to fight for my country .”
Mitchum’s defamation lawsuit against Capps was dismissed, but the smear seriously damaged Capps’s “nice” image.
When Debbie Arnold ran for supervisor in 2012 against incumbent Jim Patterson, she battered him with a series of disgraceful distortions. (Peschong was a consultant for Arnold. I was a consultant for Patterson.)
For example, Arnold accused Patterson of voting to pay a local government agency director an “exorbitant” salary by mischaracterizing his employment package (pay, health insurance, retirement contributions) to look as if it was all take-home pay, and that the employee received benefits on top of that.
That the employee’s name was dragged through the muck for purposes of pure political demagoguery was dismissed by the Arnold campaign as mere collateral damage.
Arnold also accused Patterson of voting to raise sales taxes and vehicle fees. Not true.
Patterson’s was 1 of 5 votes to approve a state legislative platform for the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors, which included support for modifying the vote threshold for local taxes from two-thirds to 55 percent.
An identical distortion was leveled by Lynn Compton against appointed incumbent Supervisor Caren Ray, who provided 1 of 5 votes for a legislative platform supporting a similar vote threshold for Proposition 13. Compton accused Ray of voting to raise property taxes, a naked untruth.
Arnold and Compton both won. The distortions worked. So we should expect more insidiousness next election from the same crew.
Arnold has her own record to defend in 2016, a record as unprincipled as her campaign. Recall her vote for a gravel mine just outside Santa Margarita over objections from nearly the entire community. And she’ll have to explain her obstruction of any solution to the water crisis in the North County.
How Arnold’s opponent handles these facts will be a telling measure of that campaign’s morality. The truth is damaging enough — no affront to decency is necessary.
Distortions, fabrications, half-truths — we’re being force-fed large helpings of these empty calories in our SLO County political diet.
Some will consume this gruel with gusto. Those who care about our civic well-being won’t.
It’s past time to demand healthier fare on our local political menus.