By the time you read this, election 2014 will be in our rear view mirrors, so nobody can accuse me of using this as a tool for trying to influence the election. I try to remain apolitical. In my role as the ED of a non-profit social service agency I don’t publicly support any candidate for any office, nor do I contribute to any candidate’s campaign. In the past I have been accused of allowing my Democratic leanings to show by Republicans who felt I was being hard on them, and I’ve been accused of allowing my Republican leanings to show by those Democrats who felt I was being hard on them. So all in all, I guess I’m pretty balanced.

I think many people were appalled at the character assassination, mudslinging, distortion and smearing that went on in this most recent election cycle. It seemed to me this might have been, overall, the dirtiest campaign ever waged, at least in Minnesota. It wasn’t one sided; it was on both sides of the political fence. And it wasn’t just one or two candidates, it was almost everyone who used television as an advertising medium.

How many times were we subject to advertisements in which one candidate spent their entire allotted time smearing their opponent, never once mentioning anything they were in support of or that they would do for us if they were elected?

And then, just in case that wasn’t bad enough, it got worse. At least those candidates mentioned above were willing to associate their names with this often devious, always dirty, campaigning.

Then came commercial after commercial in which we weren’t even told who was running against the person being smeared! These commercials were apparently prepared by, and paid for by, the national Republican or the national Democratic organizations, or some other special interest organization, and they were designed solely to drag the candidate being attacked through the mud. The opponent, the one who apparently was supposed to benefit from these nasty pieces of political tripe, didn’t even have the courage to allow their name to be used!

I suppose the people who prepare and run these ads think we’re stupid, and if they use national and special interest money and never mention their candidate’s name, we won’t think the candidate had anything to do with it. However, as much as they’d like to deny culpability if they get called out for the advertising, I can’t conceive of a politician who would allow something intended to support them and their campaign to go on the air without at least being aware of it and giving tacit, if not outright, approval. If they do, they should be ashamed of themselves. That’s not even plausible deniability! It’s just plain cowardly.

This election cycle we saw these television commercials ad nauseam in the gubernatorial campaign, the senatorial campaign and in various house campaigns. The mudslinging even got down to local state house campaigns; it just took another form. Instead of television commercials, which would be way too expensive, it was the war of flyers being delivered door to door, some of which, at best distorted the truth and, at worst, outright lied about the opponent.

We have nobody but ourselves to blame. People spend each election cycle complaining about negative campaign tactics, and then we elect those people who stoop the lowest, thereby giving our own tacit approval to the very tactics we deplore. I really thought we’d seen the worst possible advertising during the 2012 campaign. Then the 2014 campaign heated up and for several candidates, their campaigns sunk to new lows.

I am not a native Minnesotan; I’ve only been here for 34 years. But in that time I think I’ve become pretty Minnesotan in terms of my respect for fairness and decency. Those are two of the attributes I have come to cherish the most in my fellow Minnesotans.

But the kind of nasty, dirty, devious campaigning we see every couple of years, especially in these high-profile elections, tears at the very fabric of our culture as Minnesotans and threatens to make us no better than people who live in those parts of the country where mudslinging and name calling is just an accepted part of life.

That’s not us. We can’t let it become us. Next election, every time you see an ad or a flyer that simply attacks the opponent, cross them off your list. Let our votes tell those who insist on trying to drag us into the gutter with them that we don’t want them representing us.

That would seem to be the only way to get our point across.

John Kemp
ED and CEO
Neighbors, Inc.