Sunday, March 15, 2015

Lies Fuel Recall Campaign

Recently I visited with eighteen voters who'd signed the recall petition against Olga Pedroza.

Each voter asked to take his or her name off the petition. All but one described election fraud, whether or not s/he used that term.

The lies varied.

The first lady said she hadn't signed any recall petition, and wouldn't. Had she signed any kind of petition? Yes, but for some public good. A young boy with her said it was about some parking lot. She then recalled that it was to save the PAL Boxing Gym from being torn down for a parking lot. Recall wasn't mentioned, she said. When she realized the fraud, she was angry.

The recall-targeted councilors have said nothing to indicate they want to close PAL. As one voter pointed out, the City doesn't even own the land. (He was a friend of Austin Trout who'd also been told the petition was to save PAL.)

In late December, the City Clerk warned the recall folks against further fraud. January 12th, PAL's Chairman of the Board published a letter in the Sun-News saying PAL hadn't been threatened, wasn't involved in the recall, and wished the recall proponents would stop misusing PAL's name to hustle signatures.

Petition circulators continued to use the baseless PAL story. They probably know that District 3 voters mostly like Olga Pedroza and favor the minimum-wage hike that elicited the spurious recall effort -- but also love PAL.

There were other lies. One elderly woman, who'd apparently spotted Olga Pedroza's name on the petition and asked about it, said she was told recall meant “to bring her back into office.” A man said he was told Olga was against the minimum-wage hike.

When I mentioned the “recall means to bring back to office” line to a young woman who'd also talked to some voters, she exclaimed that one had told her the same thing. She wrote me, “[E]very single person wanted to be removed from the petition. It was really upsetting actually, most of the people were very confused and it was clear that they had been given bad information.”

It is frustrating to talk to good people who've been bamboozled and hear them express surprise and anger, then apologize for being taken in. I'd known there was fraud, but not how it permeated the whole recall operation.

This stuff shouldn't happen. (In fact, misrepresenting the purpose or effect of a petition in order to get signatures is a 4th-degree felony under New Mexico law.)

Wednesday a Republican woman complained that these folks had just lied to her. In Gill Sorg's district, they told her they were recalling “Bill” because of the pet-licensing issue. I'm not even sure the pet-licensing issue had been voted on before the recall started.

Who are these people? Apparently some rich businessfolks in the County bankrolled this thing; the Koch Brothers' “Americans for Prosperity” is apparently involved. Its local head, Pam Wolfe, has been working actively on the recall. (Certainly the truth quotient of this operation resembles AFP's in various elections; and the Koch Brothers intensely dislike the minimum wage.) 
Please read carefully what folks ask you to sign. Unless you have strong personal beliefs that your councilor is dishonest or malfeasant, resist helping force the City to spend money on a pointless special election. If you've signed a recall petition in error, or because you were misled, contact me – or write the City Clerk a signed letter with your name and address printed legibly, the date, and your request to have your signature withdrawn or expunged. Including your phone number will help the Clerk confirm that you wrote the letter.
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 15 March.]
[Let me make this clear: I'm not suggesting that if you're trying to recall a City Councilor you can't express negative opinions about the person, even if they're both inaccurate and unrelated to the real reason(s) for your recall campaign; but using a complete fairy tale, often without even mentioning that the petition seeks to recall a councilor, is wrong and illegal.  These councilors' support for raising the minimum wage was the triggering event in the recall campaign; and the folks bankrolling it have other complaints, including the Organ Mountains / Desert Peaks National Monument; and it's fair to raise other complaints and opinions.
But these folks have lied from the start.  First, newly-arrived Jeffrey Isbell, sort of a cartoon character hired to run the campaign, alleged that the councilors had misused emails for political purposes. He kept saying "We" were incensed or angry, suggesting the citizens were angry and that he was somehow one of them.  He had no apparent proof -- and likely no reasonable basis at all for his charges.  Yet he kept saying "We've seen documents" that suggest the misuse.  (If he had, he never showed them to the public.)  His pal Pam Wolfe, of AFP, filed an IPRA request for the emails, and eventually got them; but if there were any improper uses of emails, Wolfe and Isbell haven't shown them to us.)
They also alleged that the three councilors were employed by radical organizations.  That's fair as to Nathan: his environmental group is hardly "radical," but they're entitled to their opinions.  But neither Olga Pedroza nor Gill Sorg was employed by any organization other than the City of Las Cruces. 
They also strongly implied that the councilors or certain elderly supporters were intimidating minimum-wage opponents by breaking taillights.  Uhhh, right!
But the goofy charges on their websites are one thing.
Flat-out lying to voters, asking them to sign one thing when the petition says something else, crosses the line.  It's little different from plain fraud: selling me a car by telling me it has a complete new engine and transmission in it when it has no such thing.  Sure, I should look for myself or have a trusted mechanic inspect the thing first; but your lie is still unethical and quite likely illegal.
These folks have mostly sold the recall to voters on grounds unrelated to their real purposes (which is questionable but legal) and on facts that they know or should know are false (which ain't legal), because they know their recall is anything but "grass-roots."
As a fellow said about similar tactics that recall-backer Gary Coppedge was involved in during a controversy in Oregon, "They kept forming astroturf groups."
It's refreshing that most citizens see through the nonsense and that others who erroneously signed a petition are withdrawing their namesBut it's saddening to realize that they presented this thing to so many voters as protecting the PAL Center -- often without even mentioning recall!]
[And the real fault in the recall campaign is that it's unrelated to any kind of malfeasance or corruption, or even any real belief in such, but is a bald-faced effort by rich businessfolk to intimidate the three councilors and any future councilors who might want to vote their consciences, not the Chamber of Commerce's agenda.]

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