We’re reaping the rotten fruit of partisan politics

Nov. 03, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

Politically, at least, voters in the city of Sanford are reaping perhaps the very things Rep. Mike Stone and the signal-callers within the Republican Party in Lee County may have wanted when legislation making municipal elections partisan was railroaded through the legislature earlier this year: barely-filtered vitriol and negativity.

Can anyone prove differently? The fruit of the party’s bad decision and that bad legislation (legislation just a few people went on record in favor of, and which some Republicans spoke out against) included the distasteful direct mail piece which landed in the mailboxes of some area residents a week ago Saturday. Unfortunately, the “Trial Lawyer Chas Post”-card was just the latest in a long line of direct mail attacks which flow through the postal service during election time (including some from the Dems, too, although the GOP certainly has set the low standard).

This particular piece lowered the bar even further, though. The callous ammunition the Lee GOP used was the image of a 12-year-old accident victim in order to malign a candidate it didn't like — a candidate whose profession as a trial lawyer was inexplicably portrayed as an egregious sin making him unfit for office.

Republican Party Chairman Charles Staley attempted to place a factually incorrect and absurdly-worded version of the mailer in The Herald two weeks ago. When that didn't work, a copy of the "ad" — factual errors and all — was sent out by email to a select group of folks. The party then toned things down only slightly with what eventually was sent out by regular mail. The mailer, we assume, represented the culmination of its strategic attack on Post, who faces Republican Max Dolan for a four-year At-Large Sanford City Council seat.

Dolan himself joined a number of Lee County Republicans in agreeing this campaign to smear Post was done in poor taste. What’s hard to reconcile is why the GOP, instead of touting the candidacy of Dolan — a really decent man whom we endorsed when he sought a seat on the Lee County Board of Commissioners a year ago — served up yet another round of poisonous half-truths and deceptions with this effort. It’s one thing for the oft-described conservative wing of the county’s Republicans, the “true” conservative Tea Partiers, to try to out-do negative ads and attacks from the past ... but to do it this way?

(The GOP often points to LEED-PAC ads published in The Herald last year with an image of sitting Lee County Commissioner Jim Womack as rationale for its nastiness, but they don't understand, within the context of free speech, the difference between facts and opinion, or the fact that LEED-PAC, like the Lee GOP, has had advertisements refused.)

As for the county's GOP, rather than explaining their opinions when given the opportunity, the members of the group responsible claimed not to be familiar with the issue, or avoided accountability — notably the chairman, Staley, who, as is his practice when things get sticky, seems to disappear.

We believe Charles Staley should resign immediately as chairman in order to best put this sordid chapter in the party's history behind us. Let's face it: the militaristic tactics used in this instance may work on the “low-information types” the national GOP refers to when preaching about the disastrous Obamacare mandate, but why must that kind of tactic be ramped up every November here in Lee County?

Under Staley's tenure, the GOP seems to have decreed that if you have a “D” beside your name and you’re on the ballot, you’re automatically branded as a tax-and-spend loser worthy of character assassination. As a result of this kind of politicking on both sides, we have devolved into a time and place where, if you're a Republican, you see these self-proclaimed God-fearing true conservatives working overtime in search of their liberties — as well as opportunities to nail to the cross anyone who disagrees with them by making ridiculous accusations, and spreading rumors and half-truths through endless e-mail chains and hysterically churlish blog posts.

Unfortunately, they're not alone: if you're a Democrat, you see some of your fellow party members pull up yard signs of Republican candidates and dump them in the yards of other sitting Republican office-holders.

Thankfully, we have witnessed some of those who count themselves as among those groups begin to express apologies in public and private ways. We hope that spirit of change continues; the appropriate next step would be Staley's resignation.

Observing this, we can’t help think of the words of playwright George Bernard Shaw. “The reasonable man,” he wrote, “adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Let the unreasonable men step aside.

It’s due time the reasonable and unreasonable men of Lee County remember something else Shaw wrote, when he said: “Political necessities sometimes turn out to be political mistakes.”

It’d be a mistake for this game to continue to be played this way.