November 2, 2006
Roads not traveled
by HANK SIMS
By the time you read this, there's maybe a 50-50 chance that you're already up to your eyeballs in some sort of factually dubious, morally repugnant last-minute smear job being offered up by some unidentifiable front group or another pertaining to Tuesday's election. That's the way Humboldt County politics is tending these days. The so-called "Eureka Coalition for Jobs" had its moment two years ago. It came; it blanketed the county with its silly attacks on Eureka City Councilmember Chris Kerrigan; it dissolved back into nothingness. To this day, no one knows for sure whence it came. Some blame Kerrigan foe Rob Arkley. Some blame Kerrigan fan Richard Salzman, who they allege engineered the ads to inspire a sort of reverse-twist backlash that led to Kerrigan's huge margin of victory. Given that this is Humboldt County, there are probably some unknown someones who blame President George Bush, or Kim Jong-Il, or space aliens. Whoever it was, they should know that they have done just about more than anyone to ratchet up the already intolerable atmosphere of paranoia and suspicion that has plagued Humboldt County politics and poisoned Humboldt County government since the recall. Chew on that while you're roasting in Hell, you ass.
As of this writing we are blissfully unaware of any such campaign. In fact, we've been blissful for a week now. The vagaries of our publishing schedule ensure that the Journal finishes election season a couple of weeks before everyone else. The issue right before an election -- in this case, the issue you hold in your hands -- is traditionally free of campaign coverage. That gap gives us time to correct any errors that might theoretically creep into a story well before readers go to the polls. So we finish an election right about the time that everyone else starts to desperately wish for it all to end. It's yet another reason we all kiss our computer screens every morning and thank the angels for making us Journal reporters.
So as we wave bye-bye to the 2006 election season, let's take a look back and lament at where it failed us. No one wants smear campaigns, but is it too much to ask the candidates' copywriters to spruce things up just a bit -- to put springs in our steps, to actually contribute something to the mental well-being of the electorate?
Examples. There's been a rash of double-plus-ungood news for the Citizens for Real Economic Growth lately. First, the Humboldt Business Council releases a poll claiming that about 70 percent of Eureka citizens favor the Home Depot-anchored Marina Center development that the Arkleys propose for the vacant Balloon Track property near downtown. (CREG's raison d'être is to oppose the project.) Then, on Tuesday, the Times-Standard publishes its own poll, showing that 60 percent of the Old Town business owners who have an opinion on the project actually favor it.
This could be interpreted as bad news for the current Eureka City Council candidates who would have been critical of the project. CREG could have headed this all off some time ago if only it had had the foresight to run a comical ad in the Jesse Ventura vein. Get them laughing, and you've already won half the battle.
But the real downers this campaign season have been the mad-as-hell, not-going-to-take-it folks over at the Humboldt Taxpayers League. Yes, early on HTL'er Howard Rien authored a jauntily deranged e-mail insisting on the link between depraved sexual practices and the government of the City of Arcata, as chronicled a few weeks ago in these pages. But Rien was off the clock at the time, acting merely as a concerned citizen. What we're talking about here is the spiciness, or lack thereof, of the League's official campaigns.
Back in 2004, the League helped torpedo Measure L, the county-wide initiative that would have raised the sales tax by 1 percentage point. The league's sprightly ads against the measure channeled the spirit of their dear, departed spiritual leader, Howard Jarvis. Their slogan rang out from every page, grabbing readers by the guts: "L NO!" it proclaimed.
Where is that spirit today? If Measure U, the Eureka initiative that would extend the city's utility users' tax, ends up passing, the League will have only itself to blame. What's the League's slogan? "Vote NO On U." Weak. What you want is something stirring, something reminiscent of the No on L campaign. Why not, simply, "Fuck U!"?
Likewise, there is League member Jerry Partain in last week's issue of the Journal, wearing a T-shirt that advertises his distaste for Measure Y, a parcel assessment that would marginally increase the taxes on his home in the Jacoby Creek School District. "No on Y," the shirt reads. This is timidity itself, an uncharacteristically rabbity effort for a bulldog like Partain. How about the admittedly verbose, but much more rousing, "Y Are You Sons-a-Bitches Trying To Take My Money?"
Well, these are all moot questions at this point. As we said, for us it's all over but the counting. So look for coverage of election results in next week's Journal, and catch The Town Dandy on KHSU-FM Tuesday night, when he will play John Madden to Brian Early's Pat Summerall as the Diebold-tainted votes come trickling in.
One more election note. Friends, if you don't see your letter-to-the-editor printed in this week's Journal, there is an honest-to-goodness good reason for it, or at least a reasonable excuse. Our mailbag has been filled to the brim lately. It builds up, it flows over, we wade around the office with the envelopes lapping at our shapely calves. If we printed nothing but the letters we received this week, there'd be no room for anything else except the ads and the Sudoku puzzle.
No doubt this is mostly the result of our wildly popular "Sweet Spot" competition, in which letter-writing contestants match wits for bragging rights and a free Bon Boniere sundae, courtesy of our partners at Bon Boniere (Eureka and Arcata locations). Congratulations to all our winners to date -- you've made us laugh, you've made us think, you've permanently raised the bar on public discourse in Humboldt County letters-to-the-editor pages. If you haven't hit the hot fudge yet, remember -- next week is a new week, and everyone starts it as a fresh-borne babe. Keep it coming.
But there's another special factor this time around, and that's the election. It seems that an inordinate number of you have known Candidate A or Candidate B for X number of years. You've always found him or her to be an honest, straightforward, intelligent person with a beautiful, well-mannered family. You know that he or she cares about the people, and is the best choice to serve the county/city/municipal water district at this important juncture in its history. You ask others to join you in supporting Candidate A or Candidate B on Nov. 7. Because now is the time for A. Or B.
We don't doubt your sincerity one bit, and we honor you for stepping forward. Unfortunately, though, we had to cut somewhere, and these are the first letters we chose to cut. Here's why. Space is limited, and we feel it's only fair to give first crack to those letter-writers who wish to directly comment on stories that we've run in the past. Given the amount of mail we've received lately, it looks like this is a rule that we're going to have to extend indefinitely, to sit in the rule book alongside our 300-word cap. Sorry.
The good news is that there's a mind-bogglingly huge number of newspapers in Humboldt County, including two roughly Journal-sized ones, that will run just about anything you send them on whatever topic. Best of luck to you.
Comments? Write a letter!
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