Monday, May 05, 2008

Seeing Red on Campaign Ethics?

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

I am going to pick on Rep. Heather Wilson, only because she has been the first to do it this political season.

She put up her first senate campaign TV ad March 28, attacking Rep. Steve Pearce. She alleged he did not support increasing the number of border patrol agents and failed to vote on a Democratic measure to fund the war in Iraq, which tied support to a withdrawal schedule.

Pearce had attacked Wilson earlier for missing 22 House votes a couple of weeks ago while she campaigned in New Mexico. Pearce was particularly upset by Wilson’s failure to vote on an amendment that would have stripped federal funds for so-called, “sanctuary cities,” including Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The amendment, which Pearce supported, died on a 210-210 tie in the House vote. Wilson, along with 14 other members, did not vote. Wilson told Albuquerque Journal Politics Writer Jeff Jones that she would have voted along with Pearce supporting the amendment,had she voted.

“Sanctuary cities” are those places where services are provided without regard to a person’s legal immigration status. It makes perfect sense that the federal agents enforce federal laws, including immigration, and that local governments provide services to all. The problem of locals being required to enforce any unfunded federal mandate is that it creates a sub class of residents. If people are afraid of being subjected to a different standard of government service out of fear, it creates a vacuum that can turn criminal; both as offender and victim. The concept is un-American and attacks directly at the core function of policing: protection of life, the maintenance of peace and good order.

We’ve seen the creation of criminal pockets before. Culturally based distrust of police in newly arrived immigrant societies often cause a spike in criminal activities as those who prey on those in fear act with impunity, knowing that they will not be reported. Two particular times come to mind during my professional career: the Vietnam refugees at the end of the war in the mid 1970s, and the influx of migrant Cubans who escaped Castro’s regime in what was known as the Mariel boat refugees in 1980. Included in those seeking political asylum were Cuban criminals that Castro sent when he emptied several prisons on the condition that they leave the country. It wreaked havoc in our communities until the population came to understand that calling the police did not result in punishment for being different. It took awhile, but the ex-cons were identified if they continued their criminal ways and were incarcerated.

We’ve discussed the issue of sanctuary cities -- here and here -- and believe that it is improper for the federal government to use its funding to force compliance with their ideas of federalism. Had the amendment passed, hopefully the Senate would have stripped it out.

Immigration policy in this country has always been based on racism, and now is no different. The laws are poorly written and do not actually help curb the burning desire of people who want to come to this country, not to destroy it through terrorism, but to enjoy the economic opportunities and political freedoms.

So, what’s wrong with this picture?

It passes on the TV screen in a blur almost as fast as the truck, at the top. However, we see Wilson with uniformed firefighters in front of a governmentally owned fire engine. It demonstrates corrupt ethical campaign practices at three levels:

Government employees, while wearing their badge of office and in uniform, must remain neutral and give no hint of their personal political preferences. As individuals or in groups, they may and do make endorsements. However, walking with the representative with the costuming and in front of the prop implies that the government supports the particular politician.

Local government is failing to enforce its own internal rules against allowing its employees to send a message that may be perceived as politically supportive.

All politicians should know better than to cross that line. Some don’t. Candidates will attempt to argue that it simply reflects their support and maybe their votes funding government.

The tax-paid government owned property, badges and uniforms may not be used to endorse a candidate.

Firefighters hold a special place in citizens’ hearts. They don’t give you tickets or put you in jail; instead they will come to put out your kitchen fire or respond to a medical emergency or get your cat out of your tree. No, they don’t get cats out of trees anymore, do they? But they’re heroes just the same.

There is at least one exception; it belongs to politically elected law enforcement officers, specifically sheriffs. In a re-election campaign, a sheriff might be allowed to wear his badge of office and uniform without it providing an appearance of impropriety because he or she is endorsing them self.

He may not surround himself with his uniformed deputies, squad cars, or facilities.

We shouldn’t see Sheriff Darren White’s image appear in upcoming political media, showing him with his uniformed squad of deputies in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. White appeared on KNME’s New Mexico In Focus with his Republican Congressional District 1 opponent, Joe Cararro, interviewed by New Mexico Independent’s Managing Editor. White, in answering a question about where he differed with President George Bush pointed out that after Katrina, he took 15 deputies to New Orleans and “saved” over 200 people. White said he was open about how the Bush administration mangled the rescue effort.

At White’s Nov. 10, 2007, announcement for CD-1, Torrance County Sheriff Clarence Gibson appeared in uniform. Gibson appears to support White, but does Torrance County or their Sheriff's Department also support White? Go figure that one out.

I invite you to keep an eye on all candidates this season. Let’s see how many other politicians step across this line. Maybe we can start a “Government Endorsements Watch List.”

Send in your examples by e-mail to, when you find them and we’ll keep track of them here.

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