Jackson County Opinions...

 August 9, 2000

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
August 9, 2000

Conventions Have Outlived Their Usefulness
Being out of town Wednesday through Sunday on business (fishing), I was unable to watch the final days of the Republican National Convention. I will try to be similarly disposed during the Democratic National Convention.
Since both candidates won enough primaries to clinch the nominations and since both have selected their running mates, there was no real reason to convene either party. Under the current primary system, a political convention is as important and provides as much news as a pep rally before a high school football game.
None of the major television networks spent significant amounts of time on the Republican convention. That's because (a) there was little news and (b) it provided no entertainment value.
The Republicans did their best to convince women, blacks and Hispanics that they would fare better if the GOP special interests get to rule. "If the rich get richer, you'll be better off," they declare.
When the Democrats convene, they will try to convince women, blacks and Hispanics that they will fare better if that party's friends reap all the benefits. "Trust us, we'll get a better return on renting the Lincoln Bedroom," they'll say.
But the business of politics is less about governing than about staying in power. Neither party is really interested in returning power to the people, just in convincing the people to put or keep it in power.
The real theme of both political parties is "We'll save the country, but they'll ruin it," and the major thing that happens at political conventions is that the delegates get to drink whiskey provided by corporations who want to exert their influence on government. And it works for those seeking to influence.
Political conventions used to generate a little excitement - sometimes because no one knew who the nominee would be until the last moments and sometimes because of the wrangling to come up with a vice presidential nominee. Even then, the conventions provided little entertainment, except for people with an endless capacity for bashing people of the other political party. The exception was the year William Buckley and Gore Vidal were together as consultants for both conventions. Buckley called Vidal a "queer" on national TV, and the network executives had to intervene to prevent a televised brawl.
Anyone who thinks the Republican or Democratic conventions make for entertaining television needs to get a life. The Israelis and the Iraqis work better together than do our two political parties; there is no compassion, one party for the other. Anyone who can stand four or five nights of convention rhetoric needs counseling.
The primary system has failed us. It results in nominees who excel at fund raising rather than at governing. Al Gore had more money than Bill Bradley; George W. had more than John McCain. Case closed.
The result is two mediocre candidates espousing their party lines, a horrendously expensive us-against-them campaign of meanness and division, two totally useless political conventions and social scientists trying to figure out why more Americans don't vote.

The Jackson Herald
August 9, 2000

Where is Pendergrass sewage plant?
One year and 20 days ago, July 20, 1999 to be exact, a Water Wise Inc. representative stood before the Pendergrass City Council and promised to build a private sewage system for the town.
It was a lavish promise that included giving the town over $146,000 per year to do the billing for the proposed plant. Water Wise owners even promised to build a park for the town.
Water Wise was helped in that presentation by some of the town's leaders - its mayor, one councilman and its lawyers, all of whom had a personal interest in the outcome of that city council meeting. With that support, the council agreed to the deal.
But now, a year later, we'd like to ask: Where is that sewage plant in Pendergrass?
It's a rhetorical questions, of course. There is no sewage plant and there never was going to be one. That July 1999 presentation to the Pendergrass council was a ruse, a show meant to deceive the public. The July 20, 1999 vote was really just a cover to give the town's mayor the green light to sign an obscure document in an effort to help Water Wise get a state EPD permit for another sewage project that had no connection to Pendergrass.
When this newspaper began to ask tough questions about the Water Wise deal last fall, some of the town's leaders got puffed up and defensive - "Why of course there is to be a sewage plant!" they said.
But now, over a year later, there is no Pendergrass sewage plant and no plans to construct one in that town.
The citizens of Pendergrass may not care, but their own elected leaders deceived them last year with promises they never meant to honor. Time has proven that to be the truth.
What smells bad in Pendergrass isn't sewage. It's a group of leaders who lie to their own citizens in an effort to seek private gain.


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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
August 9, 2000

Distortions in political ads don't serve process
There are really four kinds of lies: White lies, damn lies, statistics and political advertising.
The first three are self-explanatory, the last one the most vexing. For some politicians, the theory seems to be, "Why tell the truth when a lie will do just as well."
During the last two weeks, local politicians hammered each other as Tuesday's run-off approached. Wading through all of that was distasteful for many voters. Some of it was fabrication.
It may not have even been effective. In the District 3 BOC race, Emil Beshara declined to bash opponent Mark Tolbert despite having a lot of material to do so. Tuesday, Beshara's 64 percent to 36 percent stomping of Tolbert spoke loudly enough.
In the chairman's race, Tommy Stephenson fired the first shot against Harold Fletcher, but that in turn brought a series of withering response ads about Stephenson's background. In that race, Fletcher's negative retort must have hit a chord, because he left Stephenson in the dust.
Now it's on to November where it looks like there will be several hotly contested races. Ten local races will be on the November ballot and about half of those look like they will be interesting contests. No doubt, there will be more negative ads, some legitimate (if it's true, it isn't negative), some just the product of over-paid consultants who have little regard for the truth.
In some respects, that's just a natural extension of our political system. Candidates should feel free to tell voters why they believe they are the better choice. Questioning an opponent's record is just part of the process.
But there are some unspoken boundaries. For one thing, candidates should never outright lie. Most political lies will be found out and the backlash can be harsh. Voters don't like being lied to by any candidate no matter what the issues are.
Few candidates fabricate material, but many do distort the truth to suit their campaigns. Wading through all of that is sometimes difficult. A kernel of truth can be distorted so that the facts are obscured.
That has become especially true in direct mail political ads where candidates feel free to make any claim they want to about an opponent.
The reason politicians don't do that with newspaper ads is that most newspapers would reject running a political ad if they knew the material were false. Although many newspapers allow a lot of leeway in political ads, most won't allow a candidate to publish something we know is not true.
Direct mail advertising has no such standards and that is why many of the "Pitbull" political consultants like to use it.
But voters are usually smarter than the consultants and know when a candidate isn't telling the truth.
During the coming weeks, I'll attempt to dig out the truth in local political advertising where candidates, or their consultants, choose to present major distortions.
Two local candidates not connected to the run-off this week must have gone to bed and slept a little better Tuesday night. In the BOC District 1 race, Stacy Britt had to be heartened by Fletcher's win in spite of the fact that Fletcher is in the real estate business. Stephenson's efforts to cast Fletcher as a "fox in the henhouse" failed, which could be good news for Britt, who is also in the development and real estate business. Although there appears to be a general voter suspicion of candidates who have development ties, Fletcher's win may have torn down some of those concerns, which would be good for Britt's campaign.
Over in the state House of Representatives race, Pat Bell likely also slept a little better Tuesday after her opponent, Scott Tolbert, watched his brother, Mark, lose in the BOC District 3 race. Had Mark won that contest, it could have built momentum for both Tolbert campaigns. Although Bell distanced herself from that BOC race, she no doubt watched with interest as the numbers rolled in. Both Tolberts were connected to the Water Wise scandal in Pendergrass and the voters' rejection of Mark might be a sign that Scott is also in political hot water.
Stay tuned. The election season is just getting warmed up. For better or worse, there's lots more to come before November.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Commerce News
August 9, 2000

Nicholson Mayor Did Right Thing In Resigning
Nicholson mayor Steve Wilbanks did the right thing this week in submitting his resignation.
First, the mayor has moved out of the community, if only temporarily, and thus should not serve. He might have successfully argued otherwise under technical vagaries of the law, but every voter recognizes that he's no longer really a part of the community.
Perhaps more importantly, his resignation saves Nicholson a lot of discord that would have been caused when Wilbanks' ex-wife, Dana Wilbanks, resigned as city clerk.
The potential for such discord arises when a community has an elected official and chief appointed official who are spouses, and it was inevitable when the two separated that there would be problems. Divorce is never easy, but it is even harder when former spouses must work together.
The loss of a city clerk, who has, in effect, been managing the city for years, would have been a major setback to Nicholson. In this small community, most of the knowledge about how things are done and where things are rests with the city clerk and there is no assistant to step in should she leave.
The town council would be wise to institute an anti-nepotism policy to avoid such conflicts in the future and for the obvious potential conflicts of interest that could arise. But by the mayor's action, the way is cleared to elect a new mayor while keeping the community running smoothly.

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