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Clean campaigning in the 60th legislative district

By Scott Tibbs, September 26, 2012

Last week, Peggy Welch signed a "clean campaign" pledge for the race to represent the new District 60, which has moved north to include Morgan County as well as parts of Welch's old district in Monroe County.

Before I even get to the issue, the Herald-Times displayed incredibly bad judgment in having Mike Leonard be the reporter assigned to this race. Leonard has a long history of sharply partisan attacks on Republicans and conservatives, including an utterly shameful incident earlier this year where Leonard spewed a smear against a Christian pastor who was to speak on the IU campus. (See here and here and here and here and here for more about Leonard.)

Leonard did not even attempt to contact the pastor for the "news" article that appeared on the front page of the Herald-Times. Even if Leonard covers this race in an ethical, factual and truthful manner, his reporting automatically lacks credibility because of his history of being a dishonest partisan hack.

As to Welch's "clean campaign" pledge, she is obviously rattled about mailings sent by the House Republican Campaign Committee to voters in her district criticizing her for joining her fellow Democrats in fleeing the state to prevent the Indiana House of Representatives from doing business in 2011. I posted a scan of the mailing on Twitter and PhotoBucket, and there is nothing uncivil about it - the mailing truthfully reports Welch's record as a legislator. There are no personal attacks whatsoever in the mailer.

But Welch does not like it, whining that the Republicans "dropped three negative mail pieces the first week of August" and claiming that "it is possible for a first-time candidate to control her caucus." Welch bragged that she told the state Democrats that she would not go negative and would not allow them to do so either - which is simply not true. One mailer attacked her 1998 opponent, Jeff Ellington, for allegedly turning his back on Middle Way House. I hope that Welch simply does not remember this mailer, and is not being dishonest.

Congratulations to Peggy Mayfield for not playing this silly game. These "clean campaign" pledges are often a sham, little more than a thinly-disguised effort to get Republicans to not criticize Democrats at all, even on relevant things like someone's record or qualifications for the office.

As much as people whine about negative campaigning, if a candidate truly believes that his opponent is not qualified to serve because of his record, qualifications or ideology, that candidate has an obligation to go negative to explain to the voters why electing the other candidate would be ineffective, counterproductive or destructive. The HRCC is absolutely right to attack Welch for fleeing to Illinois and preventing the business of the state from getting done.

The key point here is that negative and dirty are not the same. Falsely claiming a politician has committed adultery, stealing yard signs or vandalizing campaign headquarters are examples of dirty tricks. Criticizing a legislator's voting record or behavior in office is relevant to the campaign and would not violate a sane clean campaign pledge.