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What's Filling Your Mailbox This Week?

GELFAND’S WORLD--It's the most beautiful time of the year, at least if you happen to be a printer. It's not such a beautiful time if your mailbox is small. Mine can barely handle the stack of glossy political mailers that arrive every day, each shiny card more shameful than the last. 

Let's start with the worst of the lot and its dreaded asterisk*. 

Slate mailers -- less honest than TV infomercials 

Slate mailers are those miniature pamphlets that come with heroic sounding names like Law Enforcement Recommendations, or California Senior Advocates League, or claim to represent the interests of independent voters. One that arrived the other day is titled the Coalition for California Newsletter. These mailers are actually businesses that collect money from candidates for endorsing them. Not all candidates pay, but most of the names you see are essentially paid advertisements. 

How do you know which candidates paid? If you look at the fine print on the bottom of any of these mailers, you will see something like the following: Notice to Voters. This document was prepared by Voter Newsletter, a project of the Coalition for California, not an official political party organization. Appearance in this mailer does not necessarily imply endorsement of others appearing in this mailer, nor does it imply endorsement of, or opposition to, any issues set forth in this mailer. Appearance is paid for and authorized by each candidate and ballot measure which is designated by an * 

So if there is an asterisk by somebody's name, that means that the candidate paid to be listed. In the Coalition for California mailer, there are 11 candidates listed, and 10 have that asterisk. In another slate mailer that arrived this week, there are 9 candidates listed, and every one of them has the asterisk. 

Slate mailers may be the only places other than newspaper endorsements where you see the names of judicial candidates. In the 2 mailers I've described, every single judicial candidate has that asterisk. This is not necessarily a horrible thing -- after all, judicial candidates don't usually have a lot of campaign money to spend, so slate mailers are one approach to name recognition. The problem for you and me is that we don't know whether the publisher of the mailer has applied any standards of merit to the candidate choices. I compared the names in the two slate mailers to the L.A. Times candidate endorsements. The slate mailers on average had about half their judicial candidates coinciding with the Times endorsements, and about half the time not. 

This implies that the slate mailers are indiscriminant about the merits of their judicial choices. Money talks when it comes to slate mailer names, particularly in down-ballot races such as judicial offices and state legislative races. 

Just in case you'd like to know the L.A. Times endorsed candidates for Superior Court Judge, here is the list: Schreiner, Zuzga, Kaddo, Townsend, Santana, Berger, Solorzano. 

Glossy mailers from campaigns also have their negatives

How about the glossy mailer that asks, "Which candidate for congress gave a government worker special government recognition for his work managing a government building with a daycare center for small children, even though he was a convicted sexual predator who had just been sued for sexual harassment?" 

How about that -- a congressional candidate arguing that her opponent is soft on child molesting. Interestingly, this piece came from the campaign itself rather than from some anonymous pac. It says so right on the page, "Paid for by Barragan for Congress." 

You may recall that Nanette Barragan is running for congress against Isadore Hall in one of the only open seat races. Hall seems to have a few negatives himself, in that he is an effective politician who has been successful at fundraising, including raising money from oil and gambling interests. But absent a really convincing argument by Barragan's campaign as to the substance of this allegation, it's reason enough to cast a protest vote in favor of Hall. We shouldn't be rewarding what appears to be classic political sleaze. Maybe I'm wrong and Barragan's campaign can make a convincing case, but the attack is not compelling so far. 

Illogic raised to political posturing 

There's another level of shame when it comes to political mailers, not so low as to call your opponent a pervert, but low in the intellectual sense. The best examples in today's mail are a couple of glossies from the campaign of Steve Napolitano, who is running for county Supervisor against Janice Hahn. Here is what one of them says: 

"LA County is home to 11 of the 30 worst traffic bottlenecks in the Country. Janice Hahn has held office in the City of LA and Washington, D.C. for 15 years, and LA traffic has only gotten worse. It's time to get moving -- in a new direction." 

Here's another: "Homelessness has reached epidemic proportions in Los Angeles -- and Janice Hahn has done nothing to solve the problem." 

Napolitano is doing the oldest number in the book by finding a couple of irritating social problems and blaming his opponent for not doing enough. Traffic and homelessness, and each the fault of Hahn. Right. To borrow the old joke, my irony meter is melting down, because Napolitano is County Supervisor Don Knabe's Senior Deputy. If these problems are getting worse, why don't we blame Don Knabe and, by extension, Steve Napolitano? 

It's interesting that Napolitano isn't pounding on the one element of policy that is actually at issue. Over the past decade, the members of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors have held the line on spending. This was during an era when the Los Angeles City Council got the city into trouble over structural budget deficits. It remains to be seen whether the new group of county supervisors will continue to hold the line fiscally, or whether they will get into overspending the way the city did starting in 2007. Hahn will have an important role in how this question plays out, assuming that the odds hold and she wins.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, politics, and culture for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected]

-cw