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Thursday, November 3, 2005
Now It's Dirty

Page 4 of the "Election Guide" in today's Daily Herald is devoted entirely to a large-print ad with "retired police officer" Jerry Harris's name at the bottom. He's not running for office. He's not even promoting good government. He's trying to sabotage council candidate and retired police chief Terry Fox's campaign.

If you think you have the goods on a candidate, and you're interested in promoting good government and discovering the truth, you make your charges (or raise your questions) early in the campaign, so they can be investigated and either validated or dismissed during the campaign. That's if you're honorable, and if you have the political courage I have blogged about recently.

If you're simply trying to destroy a candidate, you ambush him just before the election, when he has no adequate opportunity to respond, and when there is not sufficient time for the truth of the charges to be explored or the credibility of the accuser examined. By choosing this very low road, Harris has announced that his motive is not truth, but the personal, professional, and political destruction of someone he doesn't like.

Harris's character assassination takes the form of seven questions, in very large print. My quoting one of them is more attention than they deserve, but I quote the first to illustrate what sort of questions he poses. "Did Mayor Barratt allow you to resign to avoid the embarrassment of being fired as Chief of Police? If so, what were the true circumstances of your resignation?"

Because he asks questions, I suppose he might avoid a lawsuit; strictly speaking, he's not accusing Fox of anything, though we all know that's his intent. But if you happen to read the ad (price tag: about $800), note that Harris offers no facts of his own, no evidence except insinuation to suggest that the answers to his questions would incriminate Fox. The only person we know more about after reading the ad is Jerry Harris, and what we know is not good.

If he has facts, he should have publicized them long ago. If he has questions, he should have asked them in a public forum weeks or months ago, when we voters would have had time to consider Fox's detailed responses and raise some questions of our own, such as, "Under what circumstances did Harris leave AFPD?" "Are his feelings hurt because he wanted Fox's job, either when Fox got it or when Fox left?" "Was he this vindictive as a youth?"

As it is, sensible voters (most of those who vote in City elections) will give Harris and his questions about as much credibility as if he had asked questions such as these, instead of the ones he really asked:

  • Is it true that you attempted in high school to organize a local platoon of the Hitler Youth, and that you wore Stalin's and Mao's pictures in a small locket under your shirt?
  • Is it true that you are Jimmy Hoffa's killer, and that you exhumed the body a few years ago, moved the bones to American Fork, and personally put them in the concrete slab under the Recreation Center weight room in the dark of night?
  • When did you stop beating your wife?

Fox must have known the attack was coming, and roughly when; apparently, a lot of people knew. (I predicted it weeks ago.) His own quarter-page ad is mostly a measured and dignified response to the attack. It is not a fully adequate response; fending off foolish and malicious charges tends to require far more words than the charges themselves employ.

There is political courage in this picture. It is the political courage of the candidate who runs for office despite the near certainly than he will be ambushed by enemies when he is least able to defend himself.

By the way, Fox told me two years ago that he was planning to retire this year. Therefore, his retirement was not a hastily-conceived scheme to avoid firing or worse.

This is why a lot of good people avoid politics. This is why we need more good people in politics.

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