California political campaigns often try to fool voters into supporting candidates and causes they might otherwise not favor. This year’s campaigns include misleading attacks with hidden motives and “slate mailers” that candidates pay for recommendations.
Politics – the means by which we govern ourselves – can be a positive, even uplifting human enterprise.
Too often, however, political tactics are based on the cynical assumption that voters can be easily fooled and the current election season is, unfortunately, rife.
Take, for example, the television ads that Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the leading candidate for governor, has been airing about John Cox, a San Diego businessman and the leading Republican.
Superficially, it’s logical that a Democratic candidate for governor would attack a Republican candidate. But these ads, alleging that Cox is closely allied with the National Rifle Association, have another, less obvious motive.
Newsom and his advisors know that if a Republican places second in the June 5 primary voting and thus wins a place on the November ballot, it would make Newsom’s election a near-certainty.
Conversely, were Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa to finish second on June 5, Newsom would have a real fight on his hands.
Therefore, the anti-Cox ad is not truly aimed at dragging him down, but rather to build him up among Republican primary voters, who are likely to be more pro-NRA and also likely to resent attacks on Cox by Democrat Newsom.
Clever? Yes, but also quite cynical, when you think about it.
In another example, Southern California’s 49th Congressional District is a prime battleground this year, thanks to Republican Congressman Darrell Issa’s decision to retire and the fact that the district favored Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016.
Democratic hopes of picking up a seat are complicated by having a bumper crop of Democratic candidates on the June 5 ballot, along with two well known Republican figures, Assemblyman Rocky Chavez and Board of Equalization member Diane Harkey.
Chavez and Harkey could finish 1-2 on June 5 and freeze Democrats out.
Therefore, the national Democratic congressional apparatus is hitting Chavez with allegations – aimed at GOP voters – that he is an untrustworthy Republican because he voted for Gov. Jerry Brown’s cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gases and the state budget.
Finally, California voters are seeing the usual quota of “slate mailers” that purport to advise them to vote for particular candidates.
While some do genuinely reflect the interests of the sponsoring organizations, many are nothing more than commercial enterprises.
Take, for example, mailers from a Torrance-based outfit called “Budget Watchdogs” that purports to favor candidates who are tight with the public’s money.
Uber-conservative Republican Travis Allen gets its nod for governor, but the rest of the mailer’s favored candidates are Democrats. They include arguably the Legislature’s most liberal member, state Sen. Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens, who is running for insurance commissioner and wants to double the state budget by adopting single-payer health coverage.
Budget Watchdogs was created by Rex Hime, a one-time Republican political aide who for years headed the California Business Properties Association.
Budget Watchdogs is a non-profit corporation and, Hime told me a few years ago, “I don’t get squat” from the money it collects for its various projects, including the mailer. “It’s not a commercial enterprise.”
Nonetheless, we know that all Budget Watchdog’s recommendations reflect money paid by endorsees because state law requires them to be marked by asterisks.
There’s an even darker side to the slate mailer business – a kind of extortion. Some slate mail operators tell campaigns that if they don’t pay to have their candidates or ballot measure positions “recommended,” their opponents will be promoted for free.
Regardless of underlying motives, it’s a grubby trade based on assumptions about the gullibility of voters.