Monday, August 29, 2016

The Dirty Sprint

While baseball players often talk about the grind of their long season, people running for office in Rhode Island face more of sprint. It probably doesn’t feel that way since they have probably considered running for office for years, but the time they have to put a campaign together and make themselves known is actually quite short. The filing deadline for declaring one’s candidacy is late in June (after many states have already held their primaries) and then in mid-July signatures are turned in and then certified. Once a candidate knows that he or she has qualified for the primary ballot, there’s less than eight weeks to run an effective campaign, particularly since few people pay attention to local primaries unless and until they are walking into the polling place.

The time between the primary and the general election is equally brief and a newcomer without a primary may feel flat-footed for that sprint. Rhode Island’s primary is the latest in the country and there is always discussion about moving it earlier since it barely allows for overseas military mail ballots to be printed, sent and returned before the deadline, but in 2016, our primary is wicked late: September 13th.

Just because the primary season is so short, it doesn’t mean there’s no time for dirty politics. While we have laws that govern campaign materials including who can pay for them and what has to be disclosed about the sender, in the past the Board of Elections has done very little to enforce their own rules — and has traditionally been glacially slow about any enforcement during the cycle. And so every year flyers appear in people’s door and direct mail pieces arrive from fake organizations making false charges about a candidate. This year’s poster child for violating the disclosure law has got to be the flyer seen in Anastasia Williams’ district that compares her opponent, Michael Gazdacko, to Donald Trump saying that he and Trump have “too much in common” noting that they “vacation in fancy places” and “no minority jobs.” There is of course no “paid for by” or any other indication that it was connected to any campaign, but one would hope that the Board of Elections would make some attempt to find out who is responsible for printing and distributing such a piece. It may not have any impact on the dirty little sprint that is this primary but some enforcement of election laws will certainly help clean up Rhode Island politics in the long run.

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