Opinion Columns & Blogs

Ethics code could stop the negativity

My plea last week for an end to slime-slinging in the state Senate campaign drew quite a bit of reaction, most of it from fellow “I’ve-had-it-up-to-here-with-this-garbage” citizens.

But it also elicited thoughtful responses from a couple of politicians: one from state Senate candidate John Laird, whom I sliced and diced last week for dirty campaigning; and the other from Hilda Zacarias, who is running this fall for state Assembly and wants to keep it clean.

Zacarias, a Santa Maria City Councilwoman running in the 33rd Assembly District, said she has signed, and asked her “staff and key volunteers” to sign, a “code of ethics.”

It’s a complex document, but here are the parts I like:

• (I) “shall not use or permit the use of character defamation, whispering campaigns, libel, slander, or scurrilous attacks on any candidate…”; and,

• (I) “shall not use or permit any dishonest or unethical practice that tends to corrupt or undermine our American system of free elections, or that hampers or prevents the full and free expression of the will of the voters.”

The document does not allude directly to campaign advertisements, but it certainly could be read that way, and that is one interpretation Zacarias is promoting.

“I, too, believe that we can elevate the dialogue and we must; people deserve it,” she wrote.

Zacarias, a Democrat, said she has not approached her Republican opponent, Katcho Achadjian, and asked him to sign. But it is difficult to believe that Achadjian, who ran an above-the-belt campaign in the sometimes nasty Republican Assembly primary, would balk at agreeing to those terms.

That could leave us with an Assembly battle that is about the things that affect our daily lives. Wouldn’t that be splendid?

Laird said he doesn’t like negative campaigns — although he and his supporters have put out negative ads — and has been pushing opponent Sam Blakeslee to participate in issue-oriented debates. Blakeslee has agreed, although no date has been set.

Laird also is urging newspapers in the district to publish a series of issue-oriented op-edits from candidates dealing with the budget, schools and the environment.

Laird raised another question, one that is far more troubling than a single negative campaign. He believes negative advertisements are a deliberate attempt to suppress the vote.

“That’s the thing that’s really disturbing about it,” Laird said.

Disturbing, indeed. I refer you to Zacarias’ code of ethics. Candidates and their supporters should not engage in any practice “that tends to corrupt or undermine our American system of free elections, or that hampers or prevents the full and free expression of the will of the voters.”

Alas, that is what negative campaigns do. Double alas, it works. Laird is dead-on about voter suppression. The turnout for the five counties involved in the June 22 special election for the 15th state Senate District was 31.78 percent, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Think about that. If you won half of that 32 percent, you could go to the state Senate with the backing of one-sixth of the electorate.

But that, apparently, is the way the powers that be want it.

On Friday morning, as I sat down to write this, more news came in about negative campaigning. Gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman’s negative ads have pushed voter disapproval ratings of her opponent, Jerry Brown, toward 50 percent.

But here’s the thing: Whitman’s voter disapproval ratings are just as high, most likely from primary opponent Steve Poizner’s mud-slinging but also, I believe, because of her own negativity.

She is throwing sludge on her own face.

So, voters don’t like filthy campaigning — but they let that putrid ooze shape their opinions.

What’s the solution? Vote for neither candidate and continue the minority rule that has taken over our body politic?

Maybe we have to start with small steps, like Zacarias’ code of ethics. “We as candidates can play a very direct role in our own campaigns,” she wrote.

Beyond that, I just don’t know.

• • •

This just in from Stepford:

Some of you may recall Stan Fisher, the Nipomo homeowner who got in trouble with his Trilogy homeowners’ association for flying an American flag on a flagpole that the association deemed too tall (22.9 feet).

The association did not abhor the flag — it loves American flags. But it does disdain Fisher’s flagpole, which does not conform to design guidelines.

Fisher appealed the ban and got nowhere.

So he did the only thing a patriot could do when the Fourth of July rolled around. “Flag was 22.9 feet high, flying proudly,” he writes.