Candidates Behaving Badly, Virginia Division
When the top official in the county sends out a mailing to every resident less than a month before that official is standing for reelection, and when that mailing costs $31,000 in tax dollars, and when the mailing does nothing but remind voters that that same official's pet proposal is coming up for a vote today, something's fishy.
That's the story in Prince William County, where Corey Stewart, chairman of the board of supervisors, last week used his discretionary fund to mail 128,000 fliers--a scanned copy of the piece is here-- just to remind voters that Stewart's tough stance on illegal immigration is resulting in action. The public hearing on the proposal to crack down on illegal immigrants took place weeks ago; the opportunity for public comment at today's meeting is limited at best. So why does the public need to have its money spent for this reminder of a regularly scheduled meeting?
Because "The reality is I feel the vote is in jeopardy, and I believe it is my duty to . . . keep my constituents informed," Stewart told the Post's Christy Goodman.
Or because "not everybody reads the newspaper," Stewart told the Potomac News.
Oh, goodness. The county's top prosecutor, Paul Ebert, said he's appointing a special prosecutor to look into Stewart's use of public dollars for this obvious campaign stunt. Stewart, in turn, accuses Ebert of playing politics. Stewart is a Republican; Ebert is a Democrat.
But party affiliation is not what's determining who's outraged by Stewart's clumsy move. Check this from the board's vice chairman, Martin Nohe, a Republican. "I don't think there are a whole lot of people in the county who aren't aware we are discussing immigration policy," he told the Post. Stewart could have used the county's own cable system or printing press, Nohe noted.
It's not like there's any shortage of ways in which county supervisors meetings are publicized, and when the public is fired up about an issue, they show up in droves. I've been to supervisors meetings in Prince William where the overflow spilled out into the parking lot; decisions on major development projects draw that kind of crowd, and so did the illegal immigration hearing that led to today's vote on the proposal. Stewart's excuse is pretty lame.
But Stewart's usurpation of public money to push his campaign against Democratic challenger Sharon Pandak is not the sleaziest campaign tactic of the week. That honor goes to Democratic legislative candidate Rex Simmons, who struck out against his opponent, incumbent GOP Delegate Tim Hugo with a mailing that seeks to tie Hugo to, of all things, the torture tactics used by Americans at Abu Ghraib. Hugo and Simmons are running in the 40th District, in the Centreville and Clifton area of Fairfax County.
Follow closely now: Simmons alleges in the mailing that "Tim Hugo's lobbying firm represents the ones who were responsible for torture abuses at Abu Ghraib." Hugo's day job is at The Livingston Group, the Capitol Hill lobbying firm run by former almost-House Speaker Bob Livingston. The Livingston Group was retained and paid $20,000 in 2004 to lobby on behalf of CACI International, a company that had a contract to provide interrogators to the U.S. military for work at the detention center at Abu Ghraib. A CACI interrogator was accused of encouraging the torture of Iraqi prisoners, and other CACI employees were accused of abusing prisoners by pouring water on them while they were placed in "stress positions."
But Livingston Group says it was hired by CACI to lobby on behalf of the company's plan for a training center in Louisiana--not for any work in Iraq. And Hugo didn't even join Livingston Group until 2005, while Livingston's work for CACI ended in 2004.
Not only is there no beef here, there's not even a whiff of anything non-vegetable.
But that didn't stop Simmons from sending out a scurrilous campaign flier. This is not Simmons' first foray into questionable campaign tactics. His first video ad sought to tie Hugo to Dick Cheney, but all he could come up with was that Hugo once worked with Cheney and came to admire him. Pretty far-fetched. But not nearly as sleazy as this Abu Ghraib grab.
As if these two moves weren't disappointing enough, the sad fact is that both Stewart and Simmons were in good shape before their shady moves--neither was guaranteed victory, but both were in close races with strong headwinds in their favor. Now, they've done themselves considerable damage. If they lose as a result, that will be satisfying not only to their political opponents, but to all voters who crave decent discourse and a fair fight.
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