Columns

SLO County and the War on Integrity

There is a recurring theme with SLO County politics: Attack your opponent, and demand civil discourse later. Let’s hope readers see through that.

In the District 4 Supervisor race, for example, incumbent Lynn Compton mocked her challenger Jimmy Paulding’s youthfulness by calling him a “kid” at a recent candidates forum. Then she took aim at county supervisors Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill, accusing them of “pilfering” park funds (they didn’t) and blaming board divisiveness on Hill’s “psychological problems” when there’s more compelling and less inflammatory explanations for that.

Earlier this week, SLO County residents received a mailer from District Attorney Dan Dow’s campaign, portraying his challenger Judge Mike Cummins as a hypnotizing huckster. Dow accused Cummins of legally changing his first name to “Judge” to mislead people into thinking he’s an active judge. Not so fast. Cummins served as judge in the mid-90s until he retired from the bench in August 2006. The name “Judge Mike” happens to be the stage name he’s used as a country music performer. In fact, evidence shows he’s used the name “Judge Mike” as early as 2015 when his band released their first album, “Judge Mike and the Lawless – BreakingOut.” That name was used years before he announced his candidacy for District Attorney.

On top of that, Cummins was recently hit with a Fair Political Practices Commission complaint by Dow supporter Kevin P. Rice, an alt-right provocateur with a long history of harassing his adversaries. For the record, Rice previously filed a FPPC complaint against me over this site. FPPC later dismissed his complaint. One FPPC official familiar with his complaints described Rice’s methods as “trivial, repetitive and counterproductive.”

The Sheriff’s race is just as contentious with both contenders throwing allegations at each other. In that race, emotions are running high in light of inmate Andrew Holland’s controversial death in jail custody. Supporters of challenger Greg Clayton are utilizing the controversy to call for a change in leadership while Parkinson supporters feel the Holland death is being used to distort Parkinson’s record and undermine his accomplishments. But unflattering headlines and developments about Parkinson’s handling of Holland have only fueled tensions.

This week, we learned that Arroyo Grande councilwoman Caren Ray announced her mayoral campaign. Ray will be challenging incumbent Jim Hill, whose historic 2014 write-in campaign was marred with sex scandal and cover-up allegations against then-incumbent Tony Ferrara and city staff. Most of the allegations his campaign parroted were unsubstantiated. As mayor, Hill levied attacks against his colleagues including Ray while he was under investigation for violating personnel and public meeting laws.

Meanwhile, several anonymous accounts have appeared on local social media to oppose Democratic candidates, reiterate allegations exclusively published by discredited online tabloid CalCoastNews, and urge voters to support their political agenda. For example, I came across an anonymous Facebook account named “Steve Edwards.” Edwards is prolific in inundating The Tribune’s articles with comments supporting Compton, opposing Paulding and Ray. Edwards’ comments are remarkably similar to comments made by an anonymous user named “George Bailey” on CalCoastNews.

This anonymous hostility and propaganda is similar to the 2016 race between District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill and his challenger, former San Luis Obispo councilman Dan Carpenter. At the time, an anonymous social media campaign called “Fire Adam Hill” appeared to oppose Hill and target his supporters. At one point, a pair of Facebook accounts claiming to be organizers of “Fire Adam Hill” bragged about spending thousands of dollars in “sponsored” Facebook ads to discredit the supervisor, which violates state campaign finance laws that limit unregistered independent expenditure committee spending to $1,000. These ads contained links to CalCoastNews articles and allegations. Incidents like these and Russia’s meddling of the 2016 Presidential election led Facebook to roll out new features to publicly identify and verify political advertisers.

Candidates with integrity won’t stoop to underhanded and illegal tactics. They certainly shouldn’t be silent, especially when these allegations and propaganda are so prevalent in our political discourse. Voter frustration and anger are commonplace in political campaigns, but well-organized character assassinations should be addressed, condemned and corrected. If it’s not addressed, this type of mudslinging will become the new norm in SLO County politics, and voters will be unable to cut through the incessant, hyperbolic noise.

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