Negative whisper campaign largely fails, but it shows that this campaign could get ugly
By Tim Redmond
NOVEMBER 10, 2015 – Already, the state Senate race is getting ugly, with supporters of Sup. Scott Wiener calling around to women in the state Legislature and urging them to reject Sup. Jane Kim because she refused the mayor’s move to remove Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi from office.
But so far, that approach has utterly failed: Kim just got the endorsement of the California Democratic Women’s Caucus, including two state senators who were lobbied by Wiener allies.
Fiona Ma, a former legislator and current member of the state Board of Equalization, told me that she had made anti-Kim calls to some of the women she used to work with. “I want my former colleagues to know the facts,” she said.
Among those who received calls from Ma and others: State Sens. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) and Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles). Both have since endorsed Kim. (UPDATE: Ma says she spoke to Mitchell but never spoke to Jackson, but other Wiener allies did.)
That’s the first indication that Wiener’s allies are going to try to smear Kim with the same dirt that was thrown at Sup. David Campos when he ran for state Assembly.
We all should have expected this to happen eventually, but it indicates that Wiener is prepared to go negative right from the start.
“It’s not surprising that people are raising that concern [over the sheriff vote],” Wiener told me. “As elected officials, we’re all accountable for the votes we cast.”
But the language I’m hearing out of Sacramento – that Kim “supported” a sheriff with a domestic violence conviction – is more than a bit misleading. She never said that he should remain in his job; in fact, at the board meeting, she said in public that if the sheriff’s opponents wanted to organize a recall election, she’d support that.
What she and several of her colleagues decided on that momentous day was that the mayor had not met the very high standard to remove from office someone elected by the people.
You can agree or disagree with that position, and it’s been debated constantly over the past four years. The supervisors were sitting as judges, in a sense – they had to listen to the evidence presented and make an independent decision. It’s fine to say you think Kim made the wrong decision; that’s political accountability.
It’s a bit different to twist this into hit pieces saying she doesn’t care about domestic violence.
And in the heat of a campaign, the nuance of that very complicated and difficult vote will get lost.
We have seen this sort of thing before, plenty of times. I had to spend a huge amount of time six years ago explaining a child pornography bill that Mark Leno had introduced when he was in the state Assembly. The bill was complicated; the smear was not.
I had to go through this when Ron Conway tried to attack Campos with the Mirkarimi vote. The issue came up during the debates in that race, and David Chiu, who wound up winning, kept it civil; he said he disagreed with Campos, but didn’t try to malign his motives or say he supported violence against women.
There are good, reasonable people who think what Mirkarimi did was awful, inexcusable, deserving of criminal action and punishment – and still didn’t think the mayor had the right to remove him from office. …
The board, to its immense credit, did what it was supposed to do: Deliberate and discuss, in the role of a judicial body, whether the prosecution case presented by the mayor was adequate under the Charter to warrant removal.
I think most of the supervisors took this seriously. I think they listened to the evidence, gave both sides a fair chance to make the case, and tried to do the right thing. I was proud of the board that day.
And while Campos and Chiu disagreed, and this has been an issue in the campaign (a legitimate issue), they’ve mostly kept the discussion respectful. As I said, a reasonable person could easily have seen that evidence and come down on either side. I don’t fault Chiu for his vote; I don’t fault Campos either.
One former judge at the time told me that if the case had been in court, a ruling either way would have stood up: “If I had ruled in favor, I would not have been overturned [on appeal]. If I had ruled against, I would not have been overturned.” On the merits, the legal merits (and Chiu, Campos, and Kim are all lawyers with degrees from top schools) there was room for fair disagreement.
Scott Wiener, who is also a lawyer with a degree from a fancy school, knows that.
And as a friend of Leno’s, he knows how bad it can be when complex issues become political smear campaigns.
As Kim just told me, “I think we should be accountable for our votes but also honest about why those votes happen. I have demonstrated my record on women’s issues and domestic violence, and when I explain that to people, they get it.”
Can’t we have a positive campaign that talks about the issues? I suppose that’s too much to ask.
But I will note: Aaron Peskin never did a single attack piece on Julie Christensen, although her campaign and her allies went after Peskin mercilessly. (UPDATE: The IE’s supporting Peskin did do negative pieces on Christensen, but nothing like the attacks Peskin endured.) And he won.