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Monday, February 26, 2007

Practicing what you preach: a statesman who does and a legislator who doesn't

The Republican Noise Machine, simmering with anger at the positive attention Al Gore and his supporters are getting after "An Inconvenient Truth" won two Oscars at last night's Academy Awards ceremony, is going after the Vice President with another round of phony attacks and distortions.

Matt Drudge ran a headline on his website today which read "Gore Mansion Uses 20X Average Household, Consumption Increase After 'Truth'"

They know they can't argue against the scientific consensus on global warming so instead they are making up nonsense about Mr. Gore's electricity use. It typically starts with Drudge and his copycats, then it makes its way to conservative talk radio and FOX Noise Channel, then into right wing rags like the Washington Times, and from there the traditional media.

David Brock, who is the President & CEO of Media Matters, a terrific organization) documented how this all works in his 2004 book - a must read for every progressive activist.

The right loves to play the hypocrisy game. They jump at any chance to tar a progressive who calls for change (whether that be an end to preemptive wars started on false pretenses, a cleaner environment, universal healthcare, etc.) with that label. But rarely do they back up their charges with truthful information.

A whole apparatus exists on the right for attempting to destroy the careers of Democratic activists and elected officials. The Republican Noise Machine is interwoven into it - it serves as the echo chamber which amplifies the garbage produced by right wing cartels masquerading as nonpartisan, independent research centers. The ones who pretend to serve the public interest.

That's what is happening in this case.

Since the right evidently thinks hypocrisy is such a big deal, I'd like to hear an explanation as to why Representative Charles Ross, a Republican from Yakima, is spending so much time and energy with his "let's get tough on crime" talk. Here's an example of what I mean. From a GOP press release:
Rep. Charles Ross views public safety as one of his legislative priorities, and his first bill as 14th District state representative reflects that: it would dramatically increase the penalties for drivers who attempt to elude law enforcement officers.


"I want criminals who see a patrol car’s lights flashing in their rear view mirror to ask themselves, when they’re deciding whether to hit the accelerator: is trying to outrun this officer worth a year in prison on top of any other sentence I might receive?"
You see, it's all about trying to out-tough the Democrats - something we saw last legislative session with legislation to punish sex offenders:
"Because the Democrats have a supermajority in the House, and can pass any bill they like, some people asked me why I’m going ahead with a bill that has tougher penalties than what the Democrats have proposed," Ross said. "I think the question answers itself: I'm doing it because I believe the penalties should be tougher than the Democrats have proposed."
But to really illustrate what I'm talking about, here is a list of all the bills Representative Ross has prime sponsored this session:
  • HB 1198 - Changing eluding provisions
  • HB 1971: Prohibiting vehicle and driver's license renewal due to unpaid traffic fines.
  • HB 1972: Regarding proceeds from irrigation district foreclosure sales.
  • HB 2126: Limiting rates paid for medical care provided to jail inmates.
  • HB 2170: Protecting employees, contract staff, and volunteers of a law enforcement agency.
  • HB 2308: Making residential burglary a crime against persons.
  • HJR 4224: Resolving to amend the state Constitution to make public safety a paramount duty of the state.
With one exception, they all have to do with crime. And if you look at Ross' secondary sponsorship of bills, the same theme is there.

For example, he has cosponsored HB 1655 (doubling the amount of monetary penalties for traffic infractions on high accident corridors) and HB 1191 (making it a felony to drive or be in physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug when the person has two or more prior offenses within seven years) among many others.

The reason that I find all of this let's get tough on crime talk curious is that last October, the Yakima Herald Republic reported this:
Charles Ross, the Republican candidate for a state 14th District House seat, was cited in March by Yakima police for racing his car against another vehicle, a charge his lawyer said will be dismissed next month.

Ross, 35, was also arrested eight years ago for driving under the influence of alcohol. He pleaded guilty to an amended and less serious charge of first-degree negligent driving.


Ross was charged with "willfully comparing speed," or racing, which is a gross misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment of up to a year and a maximum fine of $5,000.

Racing usually, but not always, involves speeding, according to prosecutors.
How interesting. A Republican who was ticketed for street racing is the prime sponsor of a bill to toughen penalties for high-speed chases and eluding the police.

Ross, if you've watched him in Olympia, has been a Republican mouthpiece for anti-crime legislation this session - whether that be in floor speeches, media events, or press releases (as referenced above).

Ross' Republican friends said last fall they don't believe the 1998 DUI incident should prevent Charles from holding public office. And Ross seemed remorseful:
Ross said Monday in a telephone interview that he felt no obligation to disclose the arrest or traffic ticket information, but wasn't hiding it either.

Of the drunken-driving arrest, he said: "It's something that happened to me. I don't expect any person to be perfect. We all make mistakes. It's how you live up to your mistakes."
(Emphasis mine). If you believe in second chances, then what's with all the legislation to make life harder for lawbreakers?

It's truly ironic that a young Republican out of the greater Yakima area with a criminal record would make harsher penalties for criminals his top legislative priority. I had a good chuckle when I read that bit about his lawyer saying the police charge would be dismissed in short order.

If you're a reader of local right wing blogs, you might be led to believe that traffic infractions are a real stain on a Washingtonian's political reputation (of course, it's okay if you're a Republican).

Regardless of whether or not you believe Ross' history proves he isn't fit to hold public office, the representative's rhetoric about crime, as well as his bill sponsorship, confutes his past actions and even his recent comments about not expecting "any person to be perfect".

Hypocrite is defined by Random House as "a person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, especially one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements."

It's hard to argue that calling Charles Ross a hypocrite would be unfair. He doesn't want his prior mistakes to be held against him - but you don't see that spirit of forgiveness in his public life. Doesn't Ross believe in the Golden Rule - "do unto others as you would have them do unto you?"

The other side is constantly, gleefully, unapologetically trotting out charges of hypocrisy that often have no merit whatsoever.

But when progressives dare to honestly point out their duplicity, the right wing cries foul and complains about smears.

The right is engaged in the politics of personal destruction - a never ending campaign to sabotage journalism, democracy, and truth. Charges of hypocrisy are one of the tools they use to accomplish that goal. Ultimately it's not even about hypocrisy - it's about a permanent political war against the left.

It's not okay to make up nonsense and level it as a serious charge against a political figure, as the right wing is doing in attacking Al Gore.

It is, however, fair to question the motives of a lawmaker mounting a rhetorical and legislative crusade against crime who has pleaded guilty to a criminal offense in the past and who told the media he doesn't "expect any person to be perfect."

If Charles Ross wants to defend himself and disagree with our conclusions, he's welcome to do so. Unlike most of our political opponents on the right, we'll listen if he has something to say in response.

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