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By Royal Calkins
It’s common during local political races for a TV newscast or a newspaper article to declare that “the gloves have come off” in the campaign for one seat or another. They do that because it’s easy. You lay out the accusations by one campaign, follow that with a response from the other side and call it a day. Not much thought required. Easy peasy.
One could do just that with the latest development in the race between Steve McShane and Wendy Root Askew for the District 4 seat on the Monterey County Board of Supervisors. I’m not doing it that way, however, because in my view, McShane may have taken his gloves off but he is swinging so wildly that even if he did connect, it would be a low blow.
I had heard just a week ago that McShane was about to take the low road because the results of the May primary make him a distinct underdog in the November runoff. He apparently believes that he has to do something to attract enough campaign cash to make it any kind of race. The good news is that he isn’t going as low as anticipated, at least not yet, but Askew still has good reason to complain.
The McShane kidney punch comes in the form of a “push poll,” which is an attack thinly disguised as a poll. “Would you vote for my opponent if you knew he voted to raise your taxes by 1,000 percent?” for instance. McShane’s questions aren’t as far-fetched, but they’re on the wrong side of fair, illuminating or appropriate.
McShane’s poll goes like this. “As a school board member (Monterey Peninsula Unified School District), Wendy Root Askew voted against the renewal of the School Resource Officers program on local school campuses, allowing an increase of crime and drugs at schools and exposing students to delayed responses in the event of a mass shooting. Does knowing this make you more or less likely to vote for Wendy Root Askew for Monterey County supervisor.”
That might have been a fair question if there had not been legitimate community debate over the advisability of continuing to have uniformed police officers on our public school campuses and if there had been an increase in campus crime or delayed responses to anything of note. There has not.
McShane, a Salinas City Council member, has supported keeping cops on campuses even though it is an increasingly controversial program in a city with a deep divide between much of the community and the Police Department. It might have been an okay poll question if McShane hadn’t embellished it with talk of additional crime, more drugs and even a mass shooting.
The other questions are worse.
“It is illegal for candidates to use campaign money for personal expenses. So, Wendy Root Askew paid her husband through her campaign committee to get around this law. Does knowing this make you more or less likely to vote for Wendy Root Askew for Monterey County supervisor.”
I love this question for a couple of reasons. First if it was a legitimate question, if McShane had actually caught his opponent breaking campaign law, would he seriously be asking if that would make anyone more likely to vote for her. Second, there’s no law against a candidate reimbursing her spouse for a legitimate campaign expenditure, which is what Askew says happened here.
Said Askew, “My treasurer has receipts for the payments made to Dominick — reimbursements for postage and printer charges that were originally paid by his credit card.” She says it is spelled out on her campaign forms, and she’s right.
I haven’t called McShane for a response to her response, for two reasons. First, if he had a legitimate response, he would have spelled it out in the poll. Second, I’m not looking to turn this into a he said/she said story. If he has more to say, he knows how to find me.
Finally, question 3, the real zinger.
“In 2011, Wendy Root Askew evaded the law by failing to appear in court for a violation. Does knowing this make you more or less likely to vote for Wendy Root Askew for Monterey County Supervisor?
Whoever visited the courthouse on McShane’s behalf knows the rest of the story. Curious voters worried that Askew might be a fugitive could look it up themselves.
“It was a fix-it ticket that was dismissed based on proof of correction,” said McShane’s opponent.
I haven’t had a chance to check out Askew’s account but I’ve covered politics long enough to know that if there was more to it than she’s saying, McShane would have told the voters already.
Does his poll amount to dirty politics? Well, maybe not quite considering just how dirty things can get. Let’s just call it cheesy politics, really cheesy, and ask if knowing this makes you more or less likely to vote for McShane.
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