The politics in San Luis Obispo County has never been pretty. The choice between District 3 Supervisor and incumbent Adam Hill and Pismo Beach city councilman Ed Waage has electrified the political debate in this county. There have been many wild twists and turns during the course of their campaigns, including but not limited to: prank calls, tampering with online newspaper polls, bizarre diatribes on racism and birtherism by the Tea Party, and kindergarten-grade character attacks from a newspaper that prints opinion columns as actual front-page news. This is clearly anarchy, and that reflects poorly on everyone who is involved in the mudslinging.
On May 6, Tribune columnist Bob Cuddy provided his analysis of the conflict between Mr. Hill and Mr. Waage. Mr. Cuddy also mused about the election between District 5 Supervisor and incumbent Jim Patterson and challenger Debbie Arnold. Mr. Cuddy appears to be very dismissive of what he calls a “subterranean contest [which] includes an odd and intriguing mix of subject matter,” and he lists subjects that are irrelevant and apart from the “more mundane issues of government.” However, the article goes deep into the “intriguing mix of subject matter” instead of focusing on issues such as pension reform, homelessness, budgets and public safety. Those issues are listed by Mr. Cuddy himself. Ironically, he never touches on them again in the article. This is considered “news.”
For the past several months there has been renewed partisan vigor in these political campaigns. People like Mr. Cuddy have been very eager to link conservative challengers — like Mr. Waage and Mrs. Arnold — to the Tea Party. Mr. Cuddy and others have associated conservative candidates with right-wing extremism like the birther movement and those who still believe that President Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim. By creating a link, candidates are forced to weigh in on national issues that venture beyond the local purview of their candidacy.
Similarly, Mr. Hill had attacked the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business (COLAB) for right-wing extremism, though it was later revealed that Mr. Hill took exception to only a few COLAB supporters who echoed extremist positions. On the other end of the political spectrum, liberals and progressives constantly draw ire from conservatives for their passive-aggressive support of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has its own share of extremist supporters. However, Democratic candidates in SLO County are often praised by the local media without question or a hint of journalistic skepticism. In fact, Razor Online can confirm that no Democratic candidate or incumbent has been linked — by the local media — to the Occupy Wall Street movement or any other progressive movement that is sometimes co-opted those with extremist ideologies. Incumbents such as Mr. Hill, Mr. Patterson and District 2 Supervisor Bruce Gibson were never questioned on whether they’re able to separate themselves from the extremist cliques of their respective ideological movements.
Then there’s the matter of hyperfocus on issues that seem minuscule at first glance, but show insight into the character of our local politicians. Take the supposed “prank call” that Mr. Hill made to one of his supporters, Sheila Blake. Regardless of the call being a wisecrack from a candidate to a supporter, the incident showed what Mr. Hill thought of Mr. Waage: a man with seemingly no substantive positions other than asking people if they’re Communists or Socialists. The call was recorded, sent to the media, and it became the subject of gossip fodder for months. Many didn’t find the call to be humorous as it was seen as a misfired partisan attack that’s irrelevant compared to issues that many of his constituents are concerned about. Mr. Waage continues to use the recorded voicemail as an indication of Mr. Hill’s questionable behavior. Mr. Cuddy appears to be taken aback by the Waage campaign’s insistence of using the voicemail as a political ploy — despite Mrs. Blake’s wishes to put the matter to rest — but this strategy is not uncommon in political circles. In his article on Sunday, Mr. Cuddy focuses heavily on questioning Mr. Waage’s character for repeatedly using the voicemail in his campaign, but fails to look at Mr. Hill’s long history of erratic behavior that led up to the call in question. Veteran journalists should know that context matters.
Take Los Osos, for example. Despite Los Osos being outside of his district, Mr. Hill has been the subject of criticism for his handling of public comment speakers from that town. Razor Online has covered this subject extensively. Not much of the issue bears repeating — as we know how much the media has a fanatical disdain for the repetitive “anti-sewer contingent.”
In Mr. Cuddy’s article, the people of Los Osos are seamlessly woven into the radical beliefs observed by some members of the Tea Party. Once again, Los Osos is the strawman that helps Mr. Hill look dignified in his hyper-aggressive moral crusade against those who have the chutzpah to accuse government officials of being corrupt. It’s true that some Los Osos residents have used the podium to go after officials in a very personal way — by talking about their private lives and their families — and that is considered uncouth. However, consider the context. Speakers have cited news sources such as Cal Coast News and The Tribune as a reference point. There was no unprecedented personal attack of their own invention. Quite the opposite. The lax local media has embraced this coverage and dignified the stories as fit to print. But when a Los Osos resident regurgitates information that was previously published as news, suddenly they are the poster children for communal dysfunction and lack of civility. As someone who has previously linked Los Osos residents to extremist figures and organizations and wrote a column personally attacking one of the residents, Mr. Cuddy repeatedly, conveniently fails to take all this into account. Mr. Cuddy does, in fact, work for a newspaper and a news industry that consistently generates revenue from publishing stories about public figures and their personal lives.
There was another thing that Mr. Cuddy left out of his analysis. Last week, New Times reported that the SLO County Democratic Party has urged members to vote multiple times in an online poll featured on the New Times web site. The question was, “Which of these candidates for SLO County Supervisor has your vote?” According to the one who calls himself the “Shredder,” 86% of those votes went to Mr. Hill while only 4% went to Mr. Waage. The question is: why go through all the trouble to manipulate some unarguably insignificant online poll? Why would the SLO Democratic Committee care so much about this? There is something unsettling about a local Democratic Party, who — instead of touting their candidate of choice’s “solid record” — spends their time encouraging members to vote multiple times. It’s common logic to say that online polls do not have any sway in any sort of election, but to encourage manipulation of any statistical data is ridiculous. This doesn’t necessarily reflect poorly on Mr. Hill himself, but it calls into question the credibility of the party that he so proudly represents.
There are several occurrences on record now chronicling Mr. Cuddy’s awkward forays into journalism, and it doesn’t look like he’s getting better with age. But thanks to Mr. Cuddy, we get a glimpse into the seedy underbelly of SLO County politics. Unlike politics unfolding on a level playing field, the politics here is designed to brainwash over time, and turn readers into perpetual hatemongers that can operate only within partisan boundaries. Within these partisan boundaries, there is no debate. Just decisions. And all decisions are final. Questioning decisions and actions by the incumbents has been met with an all-too-familiar “guilty by association” retort.
There is a recurring theme in all these lines of attack: Reverse McCarthyism. Former U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wi.) was the face of a nationwide Communist witch hunt. Mr. McCarthy held several hearings to determine who was a Communist/Soviet spy or sympathizer and effectively ruined many careers and lives. Today, the term “McCarthyism” represents reckless, misleading and false accusations about a person or a group of people. In San Luis Obispo County, there is McCarthyism coming from the local Democratic Party, their candidates, supporters and media organizations that clearly back those candidates.
Articles like Mr. Cuddy’s May 6 article epitomize a big problem in SLO County politics. There is a prevailing belief — which is, in a major way, perpetuated by news media with large distribution — that it is acceptable to dismiss people and groups based on loosely connected associations alone. There is rarely a no-holds-barred conversation about a candidate’s record, though it’s often alluded to as something people should focus on instead of the distractions. Oddly enough, the focus is kept on the distractions — and on where the challenger, not the incumbent, is to blame for it. In the case of Los Osos, the media declares that the “vocal minority” (or the “anti-sewer” contingent) is the problem, not the County government. Los Osos residents, writes Mr. Cuddy, can be readily associated with the organized, virulent, anti-government sentiment that is the Tea Party.
It’s dishonest. There is no other way to describe it.
Should they — “they” being the manipulative and factually abusive journalists and political organizations — continue to propagandize while pretending to be on some objective plane, we can no longer trust what we once considered “news.” When it comes to County politics, no side is completely right or justified in their actions. Because of this, people need to come to their own conclusions and vote for the best candidate based on their positions and their ability to lead. Clearly, The Tribune has already chosen the candidates — but really, the choice is only yours to make. Not theirs.
– Aaron Ochs