Scraping the ‘bottomless filth of faction’

If there’s one thing area Republicans have coming to them for their half-headed attempt at a smear campaign against a bevy of Democratic statehouse candidates, it’s blowback.

When it comes to elections, voters can count on the truth being shaded this way or that for the purpose of making one candidate a little better, another a little worse. It’s part of the political process that Federalist John Quincy Adams called “this bottomless filth of faction.”

Jefferson County’s election season has been by and large low key and issues-based and one that has managed to avoid much mudslinging, the most spirited contests being those waged by gubernatorial candidate Bill Maloney and Republican Patrick Morrisey in his run to unseat longtime Attorney General Darrell McGraw.

But it managed to scrape bottom with the distribution last week of a series of late-in-the-game campaign mailers targeting a handful of Eastern Panhandle Democratic candidates purportedly for their votes on a bill that would have increased fees by the Department of Transportation to pay for secondary road maintenance, for which Jefferson County is much in need.

Most troubling about these mailers are their utter disregard for the truth.

The mailers single out State Sen. Herb Snyder and Delegate Tiffany Lawrence, along with state lawmaker hopefuls Donn Marshall, Stephen Skinner and John Maxey for a vote that resulted in the increase of operators fees for West Virginia motorists.

But the fee increase never happened — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed the measure, calling it a violation of the U.S. Commerce Clause.

What’s more, neither Maxey, Skinner nor Marshall voted on the matter, no doubt owing to none of them being members of the state Legislature. Both Snyder and Lawrence did vote in favor of the bill, support for which fell along party lines with Republicans uniformly opposed. In interviews with the Spirit, each appeared happy to explain their decision — West Virginia’s secondary roads desperately need a more reliable funding mechanism; no big government chicanery here.

The mailers were paid for through a PAC set up last year by Morrisey, who discharged his oversight of it once he threw his hat in the ring for attorney general. The fund amassed about $30,000 in donations from area Republicans and others and that full amount was spent in this assault on Snyder, Lawrence, et al. So troubling are the mailers that some Republicans candidates who made contributions to the PAC moved quickly to distance themselves from the content of the campaign. Not so lucky was Suzanne Morgan, the fund’s administrator, who had little option but to try to justify the expenditure as voter education.

Strangely, while the Democratic candidates certainly have something to be angry about as victims in this smear campaign, it’s their Republican opponents who stand the most to lose and who should be asking themselves if their donation to this PAC was money well spent. The mailer, blunt as a club, does nothing to advance their candidacies and could likely hurt. The Democrats don’t deserve to prevail by virtue of a smear campaign against them. It’s candidates’ positions on the issue that deserve voters’ attention, not cheap partisan attacks that distract from them.

But the Republicans have only themselves to thank.

This week the media dubbed “Frankenstorm” the enormous hybrid hurricane/Nor’easter that came roaring up the Atlantic seaboard, but it’s a name fitting the fallout to the party from this effort — a well-financed ad campaign, cobbled together from the money of many, but once assembled, apparently impossible to control.

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