Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Postmortem by the Corpse

I submitted a column to the Omaha World-Herald. It was rejected. Click below to read it.

I knew I was in trouble when my fourth-grade daughter came home from school on Election Day and said one of her classmates had announced that “Chip Maxwell stinks because he wants to raise our taxes.”

Laura the Righteous set the record straight in her class. I was not as successful in my campaign.

My opponent saved for the final days of the Douglas County Board District 5 contest a series of mailings alerting voters to my nefarious record so far, and my evil agenda for the future. In the final three days I tried to respond with facts in mailers, flyers, radio ads, the Internet, phone calls, and door-to-door campaigning with the help of family and friends, but the avalanche of mud was too much.

One of my opponent’s hit pieces accused me of giving “property tax breaks to political appointees and multi-millionaires.” Examples given were the Witherspoon mansion, the state tax commissioner’s protest, and a home in Ponca Hills. If you aren’t one of these special people, the flyer screamed, “You Lose!”

My opponent made it seem that I was unilaterally granting backroom tax favors to big shots. The truth is that these cases are handled by the entire board in the course of regular business at public meetings, and people of various circumstances receive valuation reductions.

Reasonable people can disagree on such cases. I thought county government mistreated the mansion owner and the tax commissioner, and I don’t care what the status of the taxpayer is. Government should not be allowed to mistreat taxpayers with impunity.

Of the third case, my opponent said, “Value reduced to $100 for Ponca Hills home that later sold for $251,000.” So (according to my opponent) the valuation was pushed down to a basically tax-free level for one of the favored few, and that person proved it was an unethical sweetheart deal by later selling the home for $251,000.

Here are the facts. A $350,000 home was built on a cliff in Ponca Hills. Part of the cliff gave way. The foundation of the home cracked and there was doubt about whether it was habitable. The experts hired by the county board to review such cases determined that the property was virtually worthless and recommended reducing the valuation to $100, which the board did.

Then a buyer came along who apparently believes the cliff can be restored and the home can be repaired or rebuilt. The buyer paid $251,000 for the property.

Such grotesque misrepresentation of the truth by my opponent on this and other items poisons the political atmosphere. It makes citizens more cynical and suspicious toward government.

But it does work.

On the campaign trail the day before the election, a voter complained about political mud-slinging, but then admitted she was going to vote against me based on the mud dumped on me by my opponent. After hearing all the facts, she said she would vote for me, but I walked away from her door wondering how many others were convinced I was the bogeyman.

Apparently about 3,400.

As a Republican, I was expecting a higher-than-2004 surge of Democratic votes for my opponent because of the Obama campaign. It didn’t happen.

In 2004, I received 14,426 votes and the Democrat received 12,983. This year, my Democratic opponent received 13,882 votes, a 7% increase. 
I received 11,925 votes, a 17% decrease. 

I was not swamped by a Democratic tsunami. I lost the election because I lost 2,501 votes that I had in 2004. There’s always more you can do as a candidate and office holder, but a 17% drop in support for a scandal-free incumbent? D
ispirited Republicans and conservative Democrats and Independents stayed home. 

And the mud thrown at me by my opponent probably was a factor. However, that works only if voters let it work. The next time such propaganda comes at you, apply a high burden of proof before you accept it as true.


OmaSteak said...

I was disappointed to see that Kraft's usual approach to politics worked again but you should have expected it, been prepared for it and hit him back even harder. We all learn more from our failures than successes so you've learned a valuable lesson the hard way. Instead of complaining and explaining the "mud" Kraft threw, you should have come right back at him with his own record and where his support was coming from. An hour or so of research could have provided ample ammunition. You're lucky the OWH refused your letter, there's nothing worse than getting yourself labeled as a whining loser. You'll do better in your next campaign...specially if you have your own "prince of darkness" to help you curb the excess eloquence and keeping the mud cannon ready to fire.

Anonymous said...

Your dad working for Lee Terry didn't help either. The Terry folks misrepresented Esch's views on the abortion issue. Jim Esch is pro-life and yet Terry sent out a big mailing to thousands saying Esch is NOT pro-life, then on ELECTION EVE Terry placed calls into the district again misrepresenting Esch's views on abortion.
Esch had the same position as John McCain on embryonic stem-cell research yet the pro-lifers never cried about that.
Chip, you whine now but you didn't say anything when your Republicans were throwing mud at Jim Esch.
Good luck to you in the future. Maybe you can run again. Don't give up if you still feel the call to public service.