Thursday, November 02, 2006

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: CHILD'S PLAY

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
November 2, 2006


Last week state Land Commissioner Pat Lyons caught some criticism for filming a campaign commercial at a local elementary school. The parent of a little girl was upset because his daughter showed up in the Lyons ad without his permission.

Lyons’ staff quickly had the ad pulled and a new version substituted for airplay — though the girl’s dad David Pittis earlier this week pointed out that you can still see his daughter on Lyons’ Web site. Earlier this week the state Democrats asked the secretary of state to investigate for possible violations of the Government Conduct Act.

While nobody’s saying that the poor girl has been scarred for life, you can’t really blame Pittis for being upset. As a parent I’d want to know if my offspring are being filmed by strangers. (And as an uncle, I was proud of my niece, who graduated from high school this year, for refusing to be part of a politician’s ad because she didn’t like said politician.)

There obviously was some miscommunication between the school and the Lyons campaign. The Lyons camp swears they told the principal at Turquoise Trail Elementary what they were doing, but the principal says she didn’t realize that Lyons was doing a campaign ad, She apparently thought The Land Office would be shooting a public service announcement at the school, like they had done once before.

But here’s the deal:

Any time an elected official gets a film crew together the real purpose is political — whether it’s for a “public service” announcement or an actual campaign commercial. Lets not kid ourselves.

And both sides are guilty. Republicans get all bent out of shape over PSAs featuring the image of Patsy Madrid or Rebecca Vigil-Giron, just like Dems do over Lyons’ PSAs. Both sides are right. It’s unofficial political advertising courtesy of taxpayers.

Leave those kids alone: Political rhetoric these days is filled with appeals for “the children.” Politicians of every stripe are always asking, “How does this affect the children?” and “What kind of message does this send to the children?” And politicians of ever stripe love to use children as political props.

Sometimes I wonder if we’re electing someone to be a public servant or to be Mr. Rogers.

On the same day that Pittis was talking to reporters about Lyons using his daughter for political ends, Gov. Bill Richardson was at a Rio Rancho school announcing some new bold initiative or another. I don’t believe this was for a campaign ad or PSA. But television cameras certainly were welcome. Look at the campaign commercials on Richardson’s Web site. If he’s not on a horse, chances are he’s in a classroom surrounded by lovable kiddies.

I suppose, for potential voters less jaded than me, seeing politicians with children strikes some primal chord, creating an irresistible sentimental appeal and creating warm feelings for the politico in question.

Vote for me. I’ll fight for the children. Vote for me. I’ll protect your kids from predators. Vote for me. I’ll give your kid’s school surplus computers. Vote for me. I’ll hire more teachers for your kid. Vote for me.

I’m guessing this is a relatively new phenomenon. Somehow I made it all the way through grade school in the 1960s without some camera-saavy politician showing up to my classroom to entertain us like a clown at a birthday party.

You can probably tell that while many wring their hands over “negative” ads, it’s some of the “positive” ads that give me the willies.

I know this appeal probably is useless, but I wish the politicians would leave the kids out of it. Surely there’s some brave candidates out there who would pledge to refrain from using youngsters as political props.

Do it for the children.

Liberally speaking: Incumbent Congresswoman Heather Wilson got an endorsement Wednesday from an unexpected source — longtime Green Party leader Carol Miller. Cynical Dems, recalling Miller’s own race for Congress 10 years ago, say this wouldn’t be the first time Miller helped elect a Republican to Congress.

Meanwhile, an e-mail from the Wilson campaign discussing the Miller endorsement brags that the non-partisan National Journal “gave Wilson a 50.5 liberal and 49.5 conservative rating” and points out that Wilson has fought “Republican sponsored cuts in Medicaid and other important welfare programs.”

Is this the same Heather Wilson who has run so many adds blasting “Liberal Patricia Madrid”?

On our way to the top: The governor had an interesting answer this week when a reporter at a news conference asked him about the recent “Most Dangerous State” list compiled by Morgan Quitno Press, an independent research and publishing company based in Lawrence, Kansas.

According to Morgan Quitno, New Mexico is now the third most dangerous state in the union. Last year we were ranked 6th.

The ratings are based on per capita statistics of various crimes: Murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and motor vehicle theft. New Mexico ranks second and third in all categories except robbery and vehicle theft.

Richardson’s comment: “We’re making progress, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”

I guess rising from 6th place to third is “progress.”

But he’s right. We do have a long way to go. So come on robbers and car thieves, get with it. Do your share so we’ll whip Nevada and Louisiana and we’ll be number one next year.

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