Vitriol tainting politics

Cameron Smyth Commentary, Right Here Right Now

“Politics ain’t beanbag” is the famous statement of Mr. Dooley, an Irish-American character of writer Finley Peter Dunne, and it’s as applicable today as it was in 1895 when it was written.

This year alone, from Santa Clarita to Washington D.C., we have seen levels of vitriol in campaigns not seen in a generation.

Don’t get me wrong; I sincerely believe in our political process and the bruising candidates take as we run for office.

After more than a dozen years in elected office, I have come to appreciate the crucible of a political campaign for how it serves to ensure that candidates are prepared for what they will face once elected. I also recognize that no one is forcing people to run for office, and candidates should know what they are getting themselves into.

But what has happened recently in our country, and unfortunately, here in Santa Clarita, will do nothing to advance the debate about the critical issues candidates must address once elected.

In recent weeks, our community has seen a number of petty political spats play out in the pages of our local newspapers.

Instead of hearing about the candidates’ plans for our community, state and nation, we have heard more about people stealing signs, vandalizing private property, and threatening retribution against fellow party members who dare to support a different candidate. A group of Republicans disenfranchised by another group of Republicans through the use of questionable procedural motions. Websites created for the sole purpose of making anonymous attacks against a candidate, followed by that candidate calling for a criminal investigation. Stalkers being stalked by rivals at local Republican club debates.

Sadly, it’s no better at the state and national levels.

A northern California chapter of the California Republican Assembly willingly revoked its own charter from the statewide organization after a political dust-up over the pre-primary endorsement process. Just last week, my seatmate Nathan Fletcher, a Marine veteran, announced that he was leaving the Republican Party in the middle of a contentious mayoral race in San Diego.
More people know about Newt Gingrich’s wife’s spending habits than his stance on job creation.

As we close in on our City Council elections, as well as a presidential and state legislative primary, I would ask all involved to take a step back and evaluate whether their actions are worth the toll they take over the long term.

After spending the last six years in Sacramento watching my fellow Republicans and many of our party leaders spend more time focused on who is more “conservative” instead of working together to challenge the Democrats and their failed policies in an attempt to turn our state around, I can tell you it only works to your opponents’ advantage.

Divisive politics within a party weakens trust and resolve, and takes time and attention away from the real issues facing our community, our state and our nation. It will also further dissuade good qualified candidates from seeking office.

This isn’t to suggest that candidates should not have to answer difficult questions about their stance on issues, their voting records or their experience and fitness for office.

The success of our political process depends on an informed and engaged citizenry, and they deserve straight answers from candidates seeking their votes. But there is a difference between questioning a candidate’s political credentials and the petty bullying and personal attacks that have been on display from so many campaigns in recent weeks.

Whether Republican or Democrat, moderate or extremist, it is embarrassing and it cheapens your brand.

You want to win an election? Work harder than your opponents. Have a plan and be able to articulate it. Engage your opponents on real issues and show voters why you’re the better choice.

Don’t steal your opponents’ signs or engage in smear campaigns that unjustly tarnish their reputations. Don’t bully and intimidate people into voting for you. Be a better candidate than that.

Santa Clarita deserves better than the senseless infighting we’ve witnessed recently. We need to remember that at the end of the day our goals remain the same — to keep Santa Clarita a great place to call home.