Jeanette Rishell, Democratic delegate candidate in Va-50, recently began a wave of negative attacks against incumbent GOP Delegate Jackson Miller. The problem is that in her mailings she cites no proof of her claims, and to date has been unable to subtantiate her charges. If she is unable to do so, it means she has moved beyond playing fast and loose with the truth and is about to step into that deep abyss lined with the untruths told by desperate candidates.
Why, beyond general indignation at dirty campaigning, does this concern me? Because of a general interest in the race, and because apparently Ms. Rishell is willing to use her integrity to prove the validity of a recent post here…and I have to say I appreciate her dedication.
Va-50 is in my hometown of Manassas and western Prince William County. My father still lives there, so I have some native interest in what goes on there. Beyond that I find unsubtantiated charges abhorrent. I especially dislike it when a candidate effectively forces voters to pay to see the evidence, as was the case here in Burke two years ago. As I blogged then, GOP candidate Michael Golden sent out mailings attacking his opponent and offered web links as footnoted proof of his opponents comments. Fair enough. This type of charge/substantiation pattern is used frequently these days.
However, these links were typically in the WaPo archive section, and required you to pay to see them. I contacted the Golden campaign twice to see the documentation of some of the more egregious allegations, and while they promised to get me the skinny they never did.
Rishell has done him one better….she sent out attack mailings without subtantiating footnotes, then followed up with phone messages making the same charges, sent out a mailing repeating the charges-and again without substantiating.
BVBL addressed this course of events here and here, with City Councilman Steve Randolph (who is not a Republican) providing a detailed refutation of one charge, and also here, where a truly humorous account of a phone call to Rishell HQ and the stumbling response given makes for good reading. The good folks at Raising Kaine try to toss her a lifeline on one of her charges (does this concede the invalidity of the other two?), namely that Miller voted to raise his pay in the General Assembly by joining in a unanimous resolution raising the per diem rate for members. BVBL capably swats away this attempt at defense, but the crux was put more succinctly by one of the comments to the post, which noted:
Per diems are not reportable as income to the IRS. A per diem is not considered “pay” at all. Rather, it is for the reimbursement of living expenses incurred by legislators who are essentially living away from their homes for two months each year. Through their per diems, legislators pay for room and board, as well as meals and any other incidentals arising from their stay in the Mystical City on the James. Legislators’ “pay” has remained the same for over a decade – delegates at just a hair shy of $18,000 per year, senators just north of that.
Yeah, so much for the per diem pay raise rap…
Ms. Rishell and her defenders seem willing to spend their time trying to justify this badly vetted and ill advised mailing (which can be seen on BVBL), even though it will waste her campaign resources and detract from her other efforts.
Which leads me to the second reason this whole thing interests me…
A week ago I considered the question “Can Campaigns Recover from Mistakes?” My conclusion, and one agreed on in posts and in email I received, was:
…because the truth is that campaigns can always recover from mistakes-it is the reaction to the mistake that kills campaigns.
It seems Ms. Rishell is doing her best to prove me right.
Her charges in the mailer are at best tenuous, at worst untruthful, and any value is negated by the shoddy way they have been presented. She needs to admit an error before this matter spins from the blogs into the MSM, candidate debates, and other venues that can work widespread harm to her campaign.
Instead, as the RK post shows, Ms. Rishell and her supporters seem desperate to support the unsupportable and defend the indefensible. Unlike Brer Rabbit, who tried to disengage from the Tar Baby once he foolishly got caught up in it, Ms. Rishell seems willing to embrace the mistake even more tightly…but I doubt Delegate Miller’s campaign, or the voters, will give her the chance to escape through the briar patch.
As a resident of the Commonwealth I hope she comes to her senses. As a blogger and periodic pundit, I really appreciate her efforts to prove me right. It may be quite costly to her, and the fact she would do this for me brings a tear to my eye.