Mudslinging campaigns insult democracy

A few years ago, I needed to call the Department of Motor Vehicles and dialed the corresponding 800 number. Imagine my surprise when I got a phone sex line.
I redialed to make sure it was a phone book misprint (it was), hung up and visited the local DMV instead. I never thought about it then, but that was the moment I became unfit for Congress.

That’s how it looks for Michael Arcuri. As district attorney for Oneida County in New York, Arcuri went to a 2004 conference in New York City. A call was placed from his hotel room to an adult line, which shared the last seven digits of the number for the state Department of Criminal Justice Services. That number was dialed a minute later, according to hotel records.

Arcuri is now running for an open House seat in New York’s 24th district. An ad features Arcurri’s picture in front of a silhouetted dancer. The ad includes a woman saying, “Hi, sexy. You’ve reached the live, one-on-one fantasy line,” and the accusation that the call was charged to taxpayers.

The state Republican party stood by the ad because it was true. Never mind that Arcuri’s GOP opponent and friend Ray Meier called the ad “over the line.” Or that the call amounted to $1.25, which probably pays for enough time to hear the ad, laugh at a dialing mistake and hang up. Imagine if Arcuri ordered room service.

I’m used to seeing mudslinging in politics — I remember being in elementary school when the “Willie Horton” ad derailed Michael Dukakis — and it seems my increased access to information means I see more baseless attacks.

Go to Tennessee, where Harold Ford Jr. is facing a family values attack ad where a blonde girl says, “I met Harold Ford at the Playboy party.” Apparently, we should be surprised that a single man went to the Super Bowl, then attended a party where there were attractive women.

Or just drive 200 miles east of Clovis, where Rep. Heather Wilson does only the bidding of George W. Bush and campaign donors and challenger Patricia Madrid doesn’t think we should arrest terrorists. The ads don’t give much context, so I won’t either.

For the most part in New Mexico, candidates are running clean campaigns. Gov. Bill Richardson’s spoofing old cowboy movies, not attacking John Dendahl. Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s ad shows him focused on driving a truck in Silver City, not Allen McCulloch. And I haven’t seen anything from Rep. Tom Udall or challenger Ron Dolin.

Those three races, however, many considered over the minute re-election plans were announced. I wish I had enough faith to say these candidates or their parties wouldn’t be mudslinging if poll margins were single digits.

Maybe someday, all voters will be informed and fact-check candidates and advertisements. Or maybe this is an insulting and undemocratic plan to disgust voters so much they stay home on Election Day, ensuring important races are decided by party loyalists and a handful of people who base opinions on misleading ads.

I’ll go on the record and say campaigns will get cleaner and voters will be informed. But we know my history on making the right call, don’t we?

Kevin Wilson is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. He can be reached at 763-3431, ext. 313, or by e-mail:
kevin_wilson@link.freedom.com