The Partisan: From poisoned politics to poisoned waters

OPINION | 

By Royal Calkins

This is the season of blaming your political opponent for everything they and everyone around them ever did, and making it sounds bad even if it wasn’t.

A perfect example is Madera politician Rob Poythress’s commercials attacking his opponent Anna Caballero in their state Senate race. His commercials make it sound as though she single-handedly raised the state gas tax, increased car registration fees and built a Taj Mahal of a state office building. Perhaps she should be running for exalted empress instead of state senator.

Caballero’s ads, of course, take a similar same tack against the Maderan, making him sound like the tax-and-spend liberal that he isn’t because like almost every elected official he has voted to increase taxes or fees at least once. It is an especially insidious technique because it starts with a grain of truth before turning into something else. It is a sad reflection on the state of politics.

But even higher on the hypocrisy scale this season is the approach of the California and National Associations of Realtors, who are attacking Seaside City Council incumbent Jason Campbell for doing the same thing as a candidate being supported by the Realtors, Seaside mayoral candidate Ian Oglesby.

Specifically, the Realtors have spent several thousand dollars on mailers critical of Campbell for voting to hire City Manager Craig Malin despite some less-than-stellar sections of his resumé. Malin, as was reported extensively at the time, mostly by this reporter, was pushed out of his previous post in Davenport, Iowa, amid accusations that he had done all sorts of things without the approval or consent of his city council. He sees it differently, of course.

The anti-Campbell mailers proclaim that he “voted to hire a shady city manager despite his checkered past” and “approved hiring a city manager who was already ‘under a cloud’ for mismanaging city money.”

The same groups, meanwhile, sent out adoring mailers supporting Oglesby’s bid to become mayor of Seaside. Oglesby, formerly a city council member, is running against the woman who ousted him from the council, Kayla Jones.

Says Campbell, “It sucks when a group casually spends almost as much as I have worked hard to raise for my own campaign (and) to send out three mailers and do opposition research on me. Meanwhile, they spend money supporting Ian, who has done and is taking the very same stances I have.”

Not so incidentally, other mailers from the Realtors appear to simply make up stuff about Campbell. One accuses him of somehow plotting to poison California drinking water and funding an organization that a judge accused of misleading the public on water issues. Campbell said Tuesday that he is trying to figure out what they’re talking about.

SPEAKING OF POISON

Once again, Cal Am Water is going all-in in its effort to prevent the public takeover envisioned by Measure J on the November ballot. Its latest TV commercials contend that it would cost the public more than $1 billion to buy the system, a number made up by the same people who keep trying to tell us that Cal Am’s water isn’t the most expensive in the United States.

If Cal Am’s local decrepit and leaky system is worth $1 billion, the 2004 Volvo wagon I’m trying to sell is worth $40,000, maybe more. By the way, Cal Am has claimed for years to be losing money on its Peninsula operations.

Less significant but equally egregious was the letter to the editor of the Monterey Herald last week from “Doreen Renegar,” who pops up whenever the bosses at Cal Am have a point to make but can’t find anyone willing to put their name to it.

A careful search of various directors and databases by this writer and others with serious research skills turns up no evidence of Ms. Renegar, though her pro-Cal Am screeds also appeared in the letters to the editor column of the Herald in May and in the Carmel Pine Cone last October.

Renegar, incidentally, is Spanish for “to renounce or to renege.”

SPEAKING OF LETTERS

On the same page as Renegar’s latest was a letter from Phyllis Meurer, the former Salinas City Council member who is married to former Monterey City Manager Fred Meurer.

Some may remember Meurer as the architect of the pro-Monterey Downs campaign a few years back. She and local business leader Mary Ann Leffel were responsible for some remarkably deceptive advertising supporting the hugely controversial development and attacking the successful effort to stop it.

You may have seen Meurer on TV recently criticizing Measure J, the water measure, and suggesting she plans to vote against it even though she lives outside the district.

In her letter last week, she scolded Dave Stoldt, general manager of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, which will be responsible for overseeing a feasibility study if Measure J passes and which will run the water system if the feasibility study finds that public ownership is prudent.

Meurer indicated she was upset with Stoldt because he had sent an email to Fred Meurer criticizing Phyllis for the TV commercials and contending that the Meurer family’s objectivity was now in question.

Phyllis Meurer fired back, saying in her letter that Stoldt was out of line since he would have a hand in the feasibility study and, potentially, management of the system.

Phyllis Meurer has a decent point there, but moving on to the point of the piece. The Meurers both have a commendable record of public service but they are not the objective observers the commercials make her out to be.

When Fred Meurer was leaving the city manager position four years ago, a council member asked him if his replacement was up to the task. Fred replied that his only concern was whether the new manager would be able to stand up to the Cannery Row Co., the most powerful force in Peninsula politics with the exception of Leon Panetta.

From City Hall, Fred Meurer moved his office to the Panetta Institute, primarily to raise money for a significant structure to house the institute. Chief among the institute’s financial backers over the years have been Cannery Row Co. principals Ted Balestreri and Burt Cutino.

Still heading to the point. The Cannery Row fellows have for years and years been leaders of the hospitality industry, often in the form of the Monterey County Hospitality Association, which has donated generously to the anti-Measure J campaign and that has been among Cal Am’s most important friends politically. A few years back, Cal Am and the hospitality industry cut a deal the involves the hotels and other major employers receiving discounted water in exchange for continuing political support.

I’m not saying that Fred and Phyllis Meurer have abandoned principle in exchange for personal gain. They’re bigger than that. When they speak up on behalf of Cal Am, they believe what they are saying. But they are not the neutral observers that they would have us believe.

AND FINALLY

In his latest campaign ads, Carmel Mayor Steve Dallas severely understates the cost of his city’s controversial city attorney contract. He says the hourly rate for Glen Mozingo and company is $195 an hour when it is actually $275 an hour for major components of their work. He also says it totals up to $360,000 a year when there actually is no cap.

Other than that, it’s a fine ad.

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Royal Calkins

About Royal Calkins

Contributing writer Royal Calkins has worked for newspapers in Santa Cruz, Monterey and Fresno. For the past couple of years, he has produced a local news and commentary blog, the Monterey Bay Partisan. He can be reached at calkinsroyal@gmail.com.

2 thoughts on “The Partisan: From poisoned politics to poisoned waters

  1. That same National Realtor Association has sponsored some very nasty mailers about George Riley, who is running for the District 2, Monterey Peninsula Water Mgmt. District position. At least four twisted, glossy mailers have been sent out, maligning a man who has worked for years to try to get our water system under local public control–and for absolutely no personal gain. This National Realtors Association must have been requested to fund this shameful smear by some local realtors. WHY?

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