Politics Blog

Conservatives cry foul at Democratic campaign tactic

File this one under "all's fair in love and politics."

That's what I told the beshrouded editors of Whatcom Excavator when they sent me a link to a recent post about a campaign flyer Whatcom Wins was distributing to college students.

The flyer (full text below) could be read as saying the following: A vote for the four Whatcom Wins County Council candidates -- Rud Browne, Barry Buchanan, Ken Mann and Carl Weimer -- is a vote against the Gateway Pacific coal terminal proposed for Cherry Point.

(It should be noted, the blog "Whatcom Excavator" argues with some distortion to favor its conservative bias. Not that I mind. That's more or less a hallmark of the new media -- to report from an angle. There are liberal bloggers who likewise tend to an absolutist, us vs. them approach to reporting.)

Western Washington University students were asked to fill out a postcard that they would later get in the mail as a reminder to vote.

On the front of the card it says this:

"Want to save the planet? VOTE LOCAL. 'The obscure county election that could change the planet. A little-watched race in Washington State will determine how America uses its coal -- and the future of the global climate.' (The National Journal, May 23, 2013) Guess What? That obscure county election is right here in Whatcom County. YOU can decide that outcome.

"Vote for: Rud Browne, Barry Buchanan, Ken Mann, Carl Weimer. Endorsed by The Sierra Club and Washington Conservation Voters."

You can see an image of the card itself on the Whatcom Excavator post. "The obscure county election that could change the planet" was the headline of the May 23 National Journal article that included the line about "how America uses its coal."

WE took issue with the language of this card:

"This pledge card -- let there be no doubt that it says (wink-wink) that electing these candidates will trashcan the Gateway Pacific Terminal proposal. The fudgy-wudgy phrasing about 'how America uses its coal' doesn't fool anybody. This relays 'vote this way, get your way' as a guarantee. That's a stone's throw from 'winners take the spoils.' Is that your idea of good (self) government?"

Is the county Democratic Party actually saying its endorsed County Council candidates will vote down the coal terminal? 

"I didn't take it like that, but I can see where someone might look at it that way," Ken Mann said in an interview on Monday, Sept. 30.

Or rather, does the flyer blur the line between the candidates' endorsements from environmental groups and the objective "quasi-judicial" decision they must make when it's time to vote on two permits for the terminal?

Mann said he would look at the terminal permits "with an open mind."

"But I think it's fair for environmental activists to say that certain candidates are endorsed by some environmental groups."

Lisa McShane of the county Democrats wouldn't endorse a reading of the flyer that committed the candidates to a no-vote on the terminal.

"It's always really important to be honest," McShane said of campaigning.

The flyers' message was intended to link a national issue -- coal and global warming -- to a local election, to spark interest in college-age voters, she said.

"In private, the candidates don't tip their hand" on the coal issue, McShane said, "not even to me."

If I were to apply the Politifact Truth-O-Meter to the flyer, I would give it a "Mostly False," which the Politifact web site defines thusly: "The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression."

The critical fact that is missing here is that a vote for one candidate or the other on the County Council is not a vote for or against the coal terminal. The National Journal article overstated the case, and the Whatcom Democrats ran with that.

But I'm reluctant to truth-squad every campaign statement that comes out of the county elections. Rather, I say, caveat suffragator.

The editors at Whatcom Excavator won't reveal their identity to me, but I surmise that they didn't just come into town on the last turnip truck. They know, or should know, all about campaign tactics and how best to turn out the vote. Do campaigns distort, mislead, even lie? Of course they do. That's politics.

WE asks, "Is that your idea of good (self) government?" Presumably because they hadn't seen a report on the campaign flyer in the Herald, the blog's editors suggested to me directly, "maybe the paper considers objective government passe."

What we have here is a failure to discern the distinction between government and politics. What that flyer says bears little resemblance to any governmental reality. But it looks to me like an effective way to get college students to vote.

Do conservatives and Republicans have an answer?