A Politician Does the Right Thing (eventually)
Here's an exchange I had over the weekend with Bill Cullen, the Republican challenger for our local seat in the state legislature; commentary and context at the end:
Subject: You lost my vote
Date: October 1, 2006 8:44:56 AM CDT
To: Bill Cullen
I wanted to let you know that I've decided not to vote for you this year.
I had been considering how to vote, and you made a positive impression on me when you visited our home a couple weeks ago. But in yesterday's mail, we received what I consider a fairly nasty, gratuitous attack mailer against your opponent.
I recognize that your campaign did not send this mailer, and that you have no direct control over it.
On the other hand, had you decided that this is not the kind of campaign you want to conduct, I'm sure the state Republican party would not have sent it. The fact that it was sent speaks volumes to me about your character--and that is not the kind of person I want representing me in St. Paul.
My mother, Peggy Leppik, honorably served 12 years as a Republican state representative in a swing district (Golden Valley), and she never felt the need to resort to distorting her opponent's record or sending negative campaign materials.
I think that if we want to have a meaningful debate about the issues that matter to us, the candidates themselves need to take a stand on the kind of campaign they want to conduct. Clearly you have not done so.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you will take my message to heart should you run for office again.
Subject: RE: You lost my vote
Date: October 1, 2006 12:26:30 PM CDT
To: Peter Leppik
If I had seen this piece before it went out, I would have tried to stop it. Unfortunately, campaign finance laws make it so I cannot review material. I see it when you do.
I have told the caucus that I approve talking about Rep Ruud's record -- but I do not approve of personal attacks. This piece is factually correct, but it appears misleading to me. And I see no reason to mislead. I wish the party had shown the difference in our beliefs in a more professional manner.
This year the fight in the state is for control of the House. It appears (to me) that Pawlenty is likely to win and the Senate is unlikely to turn over enough seats either way to change control. So, the battle is in the house.
This seat is one of a few House seats identified as competitive. Therefore, the independent expenditures are coming out fast and furious in this race. It will continue on both sides. The DFL has already done push-polling in this district -- saying clear lies about me. I have also seen photographers at my investment properties -- so it appears they plan on attacking my business (which I think is way out of bounds). I think these tactics are even more blatantly out of line -- agree?
Like I said, I do not approve of this literature piece. I hope you consider the whole candidate and what I have to say, and not base your decision on one literature piece which I had nothing to do with.
I do appreciate engaged voters such as yourself. Please call me anytime. 952-934-xxxx.
Best regards, Bill Cullen.
Subject: Re: You lost my vote
Date: October 1, 2006 1:22:07 PM CDT
To: Bill Cullen
Thanks for the thoughtful response.
I appreciate the nuances of campaign finance laws, but the fact remains that had you personally decided that this campaign would not be run this way, the mailer--which we both agree was misleading--would not have been sent out. You did not make such a stand, and the mailer went out.
I don't think it helps anybody to engage in a debate about whose dirty tricks are less dirty.
What we need is someone to show the leadership to put a stake in the ground and say "we will have an honest debate about the issues and a clean campaign, and I don't want anyone to do these sleazy campaign tactics for my benefit."
Even though both parties seem to have put short-term gain ahead of what's best for Minnesota, you, as your party's candidate, have a unique chance to take a stand in the opposite direction. Yet you have not done so.
Subject: RE: You lost my vote
Date: October 1, 2006 1:37:26 PM CDT
To: Peter Leppik
Peter, I have decided on a clean campaign and have already sent a complaint to the party for the piece they sent out.
I gave them permission to talk about records, but not mislead the voter. There is a wide difference. This piece does not have my support. It never did.
Best regards, Bill.
Commentary & Context
On Saturday we got an attack ad against the incumbent, Maria Ruud, sent by the state Republican party. The mailer was so over-the-top as to be practically a caricature of itself--for example, it implied that Ruud was anti-school, anti-children, anti-environment, and anti-roads.
It turns out, I learned later, that almost identical mailers targeting at least a half-dozen other Democrats were also sent out. I'm not sure what's more insulting: that a Republican operative apparently thought I would believe such blatant distortion, or that it wasn't even original distortion.
I had been considering how to cast my ballot, and I thought that both Ruud and Cullen were strong candidates. But the instant I saw this attack piece, I was turned off and decided to vote for Ruud. I could not, in good conscience, reward the party behind this with my vote.
Having met Cullen briefly, and feeling that he was fundamentally a decent guy, I decided to let him know the damage his party was doing. I kind of feel for the candidate in this situation: campaign finance laws make it illegal for the candidate to know what the party might be planning to do to benefit his campaign (since they're not allowed to coordinate campaigns paid for out of different pots of money). On the other hand, it is possible for the candidate to preemptively quash this sort of thing by making it very clear in advance that he'll accept none of it.
One candidate I know of actually told the party that she would withdraw from the race if there were any attacks on her opponent. It takes some guts to do this, but it is a potent threat (finding good people willing to go through the wringer of a political campaign is not easy), and it was a clean race.
So that's the context of my first e-mail. I was surprised that the response--polite as it was--basically boiled down to "I didn't like it either, but look at all the nasty stuff the Democrats are doing."
[As an aside, it seems odd that Cullen thinks his workplace should be off-limits. He is, after all, claiming his experience as a business owner as his primary qualification.]
To his credit, Cullen did eventually do what he should have done in the first place--renounce the mailer and complain to the party--but I was dismayed that we had to go through this in the first place. Maybe I'm overly idealistic, but I've always felt that Minnesota is a place where we can have honest debates about the issues.
As for my vote--I'll still be voting for Ruud, and I've put up one of her lawn signs (something I rarely do). I still don't think that the Republicans deserve my vote.
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