A blog dealing with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Mason campaign: off track and in the mud?

One interview question candidates are supposed to be ready for is the dreaded "What are your weaknesses?" query. If you are too honest you can look vulnerable and ineffective, yet too macho an answer makes one seem to be arrogant and clueless. 

I always thought that I would say I am too trusting. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt, assuming they are honorable until proven otherwise.

And that's how I've approached all my many opponents in this first District contest for the county commission.

If you had asked me a week ago about Carolyn Mason, I would have said she is an honorable person. But, sadly, her first campaign mailing suggests that I may have been too trusting. 

I'm not going to wade in to contradict her claims point by point -- I wont take the bait -- forcing an opponent to repeat an accusation to deny it is a tired, but proven, tactic rumored to have reached its apogee with LBJ who, according to legend, managed to involve a pig and an opponent in the process.

So let's look at the other column -- where she features herself. Her mailing features a list, not of accomplishments, but of causes or concepts she "supports". Most of the checked off boxes identify feelgood goals that anyone could sign up for. That's great. But voters might want to know what has she has actually done to cap wasteful government spending, promote green building, invest in alternative fuels (!), provide incentives for existing companies and reduce congestion, sprawl, and out of control growth?  

Because I've actually worked on some of those and don't recall working alongside her.

When Carolyn entered the contest she was quoted as saying she was going to run on her record.  I'm waiting to see exactly what that consists of. Instead, her first big attempt to communicate with the voters says nothing about anything she has done and instead focuses on things I have supposedly done or said. Her accusations are blend of information taken out of context, deliberate misunderstanding, and distortion with just enough connection to reality to seem plausible.


Allright, let's do one example: 

First you need to know I showed up to a "Teens Tackle Politics" event to answer questions from teens, many of whom probably are not yet voters. I did it because it was the right thing to do and a similar earlier event had been canceled. Carolyn Mason was not there to speak or answer questions.

Now check out the Oct 5th Sunday Sarasota Herald Tribune and find the story about how exposed we are financially if we have a really bad hurricane. As you read you'll find passages like the following:

If Florida is unable to borrow after a major storm, nearly every insurance company operating in the state will come up short. Scores of insurers could find themselves unable to pay claims.

Homeowners would be left with late checks at best; at worst, with no money, insolvent insurers, and a clogged guarantee fund that itself must sell bonds to pay claims.

Florida's gambit to reduce insurance rates could bankrupt the state, paralyze its economy and leave tens of thousands homeless without money to rebuild.

What does that boil down to? It boils down to the fact that the amount paid in premiums by Floridians isn't sufficient to cover damages if we have a really bad hurricane year. I don't think that's a secret, but not everyone knows it. So when I tried to explain that sobering reality to that group of high school students, a grinning political operative was standing in the back of the room with a recording device  -- and now I'm labeled as the guy that is "on the record" as believing Floridians don't pay enough in insurance premiums. Well, reality sucks sometimes. We're in a pickle because of the failure to understand hurricane risk exposure in Florida. That was my point. But the reader is meant to conclude that I favor charging people more, when I've never said that. 

Perhaps some neutral outside entity will examine her other claims about me and provide an independent reality check. As for me, for now, I am going to try a little Matthew 5:39 and turn the other cheek. 

After all, maybe Carolyn got some bad advice, or never saw the mailer -- her first name is actually spelled incorrectly in one place. In my experience most people are pretty good at recognizing errors in their own name so I'm wondering if maybe she didn't get to spend a lot of time reviewing the mailer? 

And the producers were evidently in such a hurry to get it out that they incorrectly (and illegally?) listed her as running in District 5. That's the seat currently held by Jon Thaxton. Oops.

But if Carolyn is the honorable person I have taken her to be, she will renounce the distortions and lies (and typos), communicate that to the voters, and put her campaign back on a track of honest dealing. I owe her that opportunity.


The premise of dirty campaign tactics is based on the human weakness that I mentioned at the beginning of this entry. It relies on voters wanting to trust candidates. We would like to be able to trust people, particularly people running for office. So we extend trust --trusting that when their name appears on something that they approved, that it must be true. One would hope. Sadly, all too often it isn't.

I have worked for thirty years to earn a reputation for honesty. And I keep working. That's why you can read previous blogs of mine that correct misleading or wrong campaign information -- not information from my opponents, but facts that originated from my campaign.

Well, I'm rambling. I'm heading back to the campaign. We'll see how the Mason campaign responds. Keep the faith, spread the word. Remember, we can do better. 

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