Letter to the Editor: Attack Ads

By Khalil J Spencer
Los Alamos

If Citizens United is not overturned or modified, the County is going to have to send us larger recycling and garbage bins at election season to handle the third-party PAC attack ads in our mailboxes.

Not to mention, most of us will unplug our phones. Come to think of it, much of this literature smells too badly to be put in our recycling bins.
Perhaps, therefore, the solution to Citizens United is these PACs need to be taxed heavily to support our solid waste disposal systems.

In local races, we have to see each other on the street the next morning. PACs, on the other hand, can spew deceit and nonsense with impunity and with nearly unlimited budgets.

I suspect this sort of literature doesn’t impress or sway the minds of most Los Alamos residents as much as it reduces the credibility of the sender.
Perhaps the party leadership, including the Democrat’s Mr. Forrester and the GOP’s Mr. McCleskey, can, instead of wasting time pointing fingers at the other side, telegraph to the “independent committees” writing this stuff for their own people to save their money and stop loading our garbage bins to their limits.

The reason this stuff keeps on showing up in our mailboxes, to borrow from a recent Slate article on the bicyclist vs. motorist wars (“Why you hate cyclists” by Jim Saksa**), is “…because of what is called the affect heuristic, which is a fancy way of saying that people make judgments by consulting their emotions instead of logic. The affect heuristic explains how our minds take a difficult question (one that would require rigorous logic to answer) and substitutes it for an easier one…”, in this case, that the other side’s candidate is a bum. Such thinking is counterproductive to good government.

I’m on record as endorsing Jim Hall, which I chose to do based on respect and friendship developed during my long experience working with Jim when he was on the Los Alamos County Council and I on the Transportation Board.

Having said that, I respect Stephanie Richard and thank both candidates for providing us a race between two fine people, those lurid three color ads attacking Jim notwithstanding (For whatever reason, I’ve not gotten any attacking Stephanie.)

The problems we face as a county, state and a nation will require us to listen and cooperate across the political spectrum.

It’s tough to work together if we are taught to loath our political adversaries and dismiss their ideas out of hand. My experience on the County Transportation Board and as a University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (i.e, faculty union) board director while I was on the U of H geoscience faculty taught me to attack the problem and respect the integrity of my opponent (and I apologize here for any time I failed to do so.)
Our points of view are developed through our own educational expertise and lifetime experiences and frankly, the table needs to be big enough to seat all of us; just as our points of view are deepened by our own experiences, they are also limited by them.
Indeed, although one candidate will win an election, all of them have important things to say.

I was still at the University of Hawaii during a long and bitter labor negotiation in 2001 that included a strike and a settlement. It was a tough period, with the state economy weak and faculty impatient from many years of minimal raises.

Tensions were high on all sides as the strike ticked off time against the clock with the spring semester held hostage.
I stayed up late many a night wondering what would happen to 3,000 faculty, their families, and all our students should the strike be settled with mutual destruction (as in Wisconsin) instead of a contract.
We finally settled after some serious brinksmanship. Both sides gave a little.

During some of those late nights, Hawaii Gov. Benjamin J. Cayetano and I started up an email conversation discussing our respective points of view.

I guess Ben was up late, too having far more than 3,000 cranky professors to worry about. Unknown to me, Ben was at the same time being forwarded some of our union board emails through a “mole.”
These included my efforts to tone down the increasingly harsh vitriol aimed at Ben on that listserve and concentrate instead on the problems we faced as a university and state.
Apparently, my “pipe down or say something constructive” message helped in some small way to get the negotiations rather than the bad smelling rhetoric back on the bargaining table.
Those efforts apparently helped to some degree with the negotiations and also resulted in a lasting personal friendship for me and the lack of an implacable lifetime foe for UH faculty.



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