As a pair of increasingly negative campaigns for county supervisor enter the final weekend before Tuesday’s primary election, supporters of 5th District incumbent Jim Patterson are crying foul over automated phone calls that could be interpreted to imply the Sierra Club has endorsed Patterson’s opponent, Debbie Arnold.
The Santa Lucia chapter of the Sierra Club, also upset with the “robo” calls, endorsed neither candidate, and slammed Arnold in a letter to The Tribune.
“Her campaign’s attempt to paint Ms. Arnold ‘green’ is akin to a porcupine posing as the Velveteen Rabbit,” wrote Santa Lucia chapter Chairman Greg McMillan.
The robo calls have come during the past 10 days and, according to Daniella Sapriel of Templeton, who received one, were from a person named Kay Mercer. She said Mercer identified herself as being with the Arnold campaign.
Mercer, according to Sapriel, identified herself as a water quality expert and noted that the Sierra Club had declined to endorse Patterson, as it had in the past. Sapriel said the “clear implication” was that Patterson was not concerned about water quality.
Sapriel said she found the call “very misleading,” although the caller did not come right out and say the Sierra Club had endorsed Arnold. “It kind of skirted the line,” she said.
Ben Lovejoy of Atascadero also received the call, which ended with Mercer urging him to vote for Arnold. He called it “deceitful.”
Calls to Mercer from The Tribune have not been returned. John Peschong, of Arnold’s campaign consultant, Meridian Pacific, said he did not know Mercer. Calls to his associate, Matt Rexford, were not returned.
Others have complained about the robo calls, to both the news media and the Sierra Club.
The Sierra Club’s rift with Patterson was revealed in April, when its six-member executive committee declined to endorse its former ally, who is a longtime environmentalist. The club offered no reason beyond a generalized statement that Patterson did not demonstrate a commitment to the group’s principles.
Patterson said the nonendorsement resulted from his support for solar power in the Carrizo Plain, which some environmentalists oppose.Since then, however, the Sierra Club has fielded criticism for opening the door to Arnold. Club officials sought to set the record straight in their letter.
“Debbie Arnold has not been endorsed by the Sierra Club, nor do we consider her possible election to the Board of Supervisors to be in any way preferable to the re-election of Jim Patterson,” McMillan wrote.
“We do not believe Ms. Arnold understands or agrees with the principles of responsible land-use planning,” he wrote, adding that “the donations received by her campaign mark her as a tool of development interests.”
The brouhaha over the robo call is merely the latest in an election season that has taken a turn for the negative in the Arnold-Patterson race as well as the battle between challenger Ed Waage and incumbent Adam Hill in the 3rd District.
Of the four candidates, only Hill has declined to attack his opponent in mailers or radio advertisements. An opponent of negative campaigning on the national level, which he says discourages good people from entering public service, Hill has said he would run on his record. He says it is a good one; Waage disagrees.
Waage’s campaign and his supporters, by contrast, have sent mailers and taken out radio ads attacking Hill’s demeanor and “character.” They have become so pervasive that a letter writer to The Tribune on Friday wrote that he detected “the distinct odor of something rotten and putrid” as he approached his mailbox and when he opened it found “Waage’s political literature.”
In North County, meanwhile, the latest round of mailers from Arnold and Patterson accuse each other of telling “whoppers.” One even shows pictures of hamburger buns, a direct reference to Burger King’s Whopper sandwich. And Patterson continues to link Arnold to extremist elements of the Tea Party.
It’s a long way from the campaign’s kickoff, when Hill and Patterson pointed proudly to what they called a record of accomplishment leading the county through the recession, balancing budgets, and instituting pension reform.
Waage and Arnold, in turn, accused the incumbents of imposing too many regulations and stifling business.
Those issue-oriented approaches have given way to the robo calls and mailers that many consider misleading.
As negative as the campaign has grown, many political observers fear that this last weekend will bring out a final bout of nastiness. On Tuesday, voters will reveal whether such tactics work.