Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Seal of Disapproval

One of the things modern parents teach their children these days is that what one posts online can come back to haunt you in the future. Pre-internet, that wasn't a problem, but it sure is now. 

Last week’s scandal, wherein an endorsed Republican candidate for Methacton School Board, Scott Misus, posted offensive comments on a public social media site, became a cautionary tale and living example of this important lesson. The Misus situation has made what one posts online relevant, and in an era of lazy and low-information voters, vividly illustrates how unwillingness to do one’s own research on candidates and to allow others to do your thinking for you can have serious consequences.
Political parties have their own agendas and tend to be run by people who like to play kingmaker for their own reasons, and since most people aren’t privy to insider info about the personalities, alliances and agendas, reliance on their opinions should be viewed as no more than a starting point; a guideline, not gospel.
And don't bank on the press to do meaningful vetting for you, either. The days of investigative reporters are largely gone, and very small budgets at most media outlets means they primarily publish little more than press releases.
Misus, who was jointly endorsed by the two Republican committees in Methacton School District (LP and Worcester; school board candidates cross file, and evidently the LP Dems decided not to endorse at all), has been dealt with by party leadership and officially stripped of his endorsement.  While it’s too late to have his name removed from voting machines, he will not be advocated as a candidate on Election Day. At considerable expense, party sample ballots were pulled and reprinted without his name on them. His name was painstakingly removed from yard signs on which he appeared.  The viewpoints he expressed are not shared by the members of the local party or the other endorsed candidates.
Absolutely, I think we should have done a better job of vetting our candidates. Court records were scrutinized but we should have gone further. All candidates were asked at the endorsement meeting whether there was any information about themselves that could embarrass the party, and Misus either forgot about these Facebook posts or didn’t see a problem with them, as they were not mentioned.
But that’s typical and not a good way to vet candidates unless you already know the answer and are verifying a candidate’s honesty. Candidates often lie or mislead. They forget, hedge, hide, engage in wishful thinking, and understandably try to put the best face on things. A good vetting process is systematic and ideally discovers both the strengths and weaknesses of candidates before offering them assistance or support. You can’t rely only on what a candidate tells you.
However, even when one DOES know of adverse information that defies explanation, sometimes parties move forward with a candidate anyway. That’s when doing your own research is most valuable.
This is not just an indictment of the GOP. The local Democrat party has had their missteps too.
For example, back in 2009 one of my coworkers was a LP Democrat committeeman who excitedly bragged to me one day that his party was going to put up as a township supervisor candidate a 'dynamic woman who was new to Lower Providence but not new to politics’.

I was intrigued because I was working on a campaign to elect the then-incumbent supervisor, so as soon I learned the name, I researched this woman and discovered that she was a notorious con artist who had been at the heart of a 2002-2003 scandal in Philadelphia wherein she pretended to be an heiress descended from a Revolutionary war hero, ingratiated herself into Philly high society, and used this persona to swindle a wealthy Philadelphia real estate broker out of more than $80,000 in cash and thousands more in the form of goods and services from others. She was so notorious that a couple of crime shows had done episodes about her. (See a good summary, here; this woman, who has since remarried, moved out of Lower Providence last year as the result of a foreclosure, so apparently her money management problems continue to this day. She still has an active court docket with Montgomery County as she's still paying restitution).
Anyway, I passed this information onto county GOP party leadership, who took it to Democrat party leadership, who then presented it to the candidate and asked her whether this information was true. She quietly withdrew and nobody was publicly embarrassed. 
Perhaps, like the “CARE” parents, we should have just shopped the story around to the local news media for maximum exposure and humiliation instead of handling it in a gentlemanly manner and giving the party the opportunity to address it first.  
The lesson is, if a party doesn’t do a good job vetting candidates these days, when it’s easier than ever via the Internet, the opposition (and/or public) most certainly will.  It’s not called ‘opposition research’ for nothing.
While the Worcester Republican Committee (via apparently was quick to blame Lower Providence’s Republican Party for the Misus debacle, the offensive Facebook posts were never presented by their municipal leader, Wini Hayes, during the leadup to the joint school board endorsement meeting (or at the actual meeting) as a reason why we should not endorse Mr. Misus, even though Ms. Hayes took the lead on questioning candidates and asked each of them about the existence of unflattering or adverse information.
Given how WRC has positioned themselves (via their friends at as somehow innocent in this, you can imagine how surprised I was to discover something that apparently escaped WRC six years ago when it endorsed current supervisor Susan Caughlan, and earlier this year when they re-endorsed her for re-election.
Ms. Caughlan (also known as Mrs. David Brooks, whom I’ve written about previously), an attorney, wrote and published an article for the William and Mary Law Review  in 1987 that defended the in-home possession and viewing of child pornography as a protected First Amendment right [you can read her argument yourself here].  This was not a random class assignment she was forced to write, it was an analysis she chose to make, write and publish.
I’m not sure how one can defend the creation or mere existence of, let alone the private possession, viewing and sharing of, child pornography anywhere, anyplace, anytime, but this woman evidently feels the framers of the Constitution envisioned this as a protected, God-given right more than two hundred years ago - as long as it occurs in the privacy of your home, of course, if I read this correctly - and attached her name to this garbage. As a Republican, as an American, as a parent, as a human, it disgusts me that WRC would hold up someone with these reprehensible views and endorse them as some sort of exemplary representative of our values, no matter when she wrote it.
In the event that Caughlan belatedly defends writing this as some sort of youth-inspired insanity, it gets worse. In the “You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep” department, I’m told she’s had a long friendship and association with recently convicted child porn purveyor (and Worcester Twp resident) John Harris. This friendship is shady especially when you consider that he has reportedly endorsed her in the past, donated money to her campaign, and records show she voted  to spend in the neighborhood of $200,000 of Worcester Township taxpayer dollars protecting his emails from discovery in a Right-To-Know case (Worcester didn't have an email system of their own at the time and now, of course, we know what kind of things were lurking in his email). And, incidentally, she’s also voted to spend taxpayer resources to battle Methacton School District in efforts to delay and restrict the installation of field lights at Methacton’s football field in an effort to prevent them from impacting nearby residents, which includes and benefits Harris, among other things.  
This friendship/association is common knowledge in and around Worcester, so why, again, was she ever endorsed? Was SHE vetted? As I mentioned above, WRC chair Wini Hayes asked Methacton school board candidates seeking a party endorsement this year if there was anything negative about themselves that they needed to explain; did she ask Caughlan the same thing at their meeting to endorse a supervisor candidate? And if so, did Caughlan ever tell WRC about this plank in her ‘conservative’ platform?
Is it any wonder, then, that the fastest growing voter identity group is “independent” and that increasingly, voters look with more favor upon UNendorsed candidates?
Political parties are made up of imperfect humans who despite the best of intentions, sometimes get it wrong. Voters have a wealth of free information easily available to them to determine who a candidate really is, what he/she is really about, and whether a candidate resonates with their values.  The fact that so many have voter apathy and abdicate the vetting responsibility to others lends validity to the saying ‘you get the government you deserve”.