November 14, 2012

Glad it's over, but here's some ideas to clean up 2014 campaign

George Smith

Whew. I’m some old glad that’s over! You may not remember the song, “Glad All Over,” but I’ve been singing that tune for the past week, with new words.

The 2012 election campaigns were ugly, expensive, disturbing and disillusioning. Actually, it was worse than that.

Millions of dollars were spent in Maine by outside groups spreading lies and distortions about the candidates — information candidates could not control to the point that you may have decided you didn’t like anyone on the ballot.

Perhaps you cast your vote in fear, in anger, or to simply block a candidate who — according to those ads — was determined to ruin your life.

Knowing all of the major candidates in Maine and many of the legislative candidates, I can tell you for certain that none is out to get you. But the partisan, divisive environment created by the election will make it tough for them to do anything for you. A lot of healing will be necessary.

Before you file the 2012 elections away, let’s think about a few reforms that could make the 2014 elections more useful, informative and uplifting.

Well, we could just cancel them. That may be the only way to avoid another expensive debacle in two years. Without any hope that they will be enacted and adopted, I shall nonetheless offer these reforms.

• Let’s make the TV stations do some truth-checking on those ads. I remember the days when I had to meet with the managers of Maine’s TV stations and present the proof of every single statement in my candidate’s advertisements. Often, a station manager would insist on a wording change — and that change would have to be made before the ad went on the air.

Today, greed seems to drive it all. Grab the money. Never mind the truth. These stations are using our public airways and we deserve better from them.

I really enjoyed and appreciated Michael Shepherd’s columns in this newspaper taking campaign ads apart and telling us what was truthful and what was not. We need more of that. How about getting reporters to analyze radio and print ads, debate statements, and mailings?

• I also suggest a reform I’d call “End Visual Pollution.” Campaign signs that sprout all over our public ways, particularly at intersections, ought to be banned as a distraction to drivers.

Those signs should be limited to private property, where they are more meaningful anyway. And the time frame when they can be up ought to be shortened.

• Of course, there’s little hope if we can’t get big money out of today’s campaigns. That won’t happen, so we must continue to advocate for full disclosure of donors and more detailed reporting of who is sponsoring the ads and the goals and motives of that organization.

• Political calls definitely should not be exempt from the do-not-call list!

• Finally, the best defense against the indefensible is you. Pay more attention. Challenge the statements of candidates. Attend debates. Join organizations that thoroughly question candidates and make endorsements. Get involved in the campaigns of the candidates you respect and support. And please, refuse to be influenced by ugly untruthful negative attack ads.

Because you were — many of you — in 2012. And until those ads stop working, we’ll get more and more of them.

Your job didn’t end on Nov. 6. It started. It’s up to you to hold your elected officials accountable, to be engaged in the governing process, to follow the debates and issues closely, and to let those officials know your thoughts and opinions.

In Maine, it’s easy to build relationships with state representatives and senators. Do it! Call, write, email them, today. If you don’t have contact information, get it from your town office. But don’t delay. They’ve already begun to create and sponsor legislation.

Now that the election is over, I invite you to thoughtfully consider the following words of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, offered on Oct. 6, 1774. They were printed on the front of my church bulletin the Sunday before Election Day.

“I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election,” wrote Wesley “and advised them, 1) to vote without fee or reward for the person they judged most worthy; 2) to speak no evil of the person they voted against; and 3) to take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that had voted on the other side.”

May I add: Amen.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or georgesmithmaine@gmail.com. Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.
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