Thursday, November 1, 2007

Wilson’s Blog Makes the Front Page

In the following front-page story from today’s Daily News, please notice Wilson’s quote, “city rules being used to attack Christ Church.” In plain English this means that citizens in the community have filed complaints against the illegal activities of Christ Church and the City has enforced its code, which Wilson interprets as an “attack.” Also notice that when Wilson says, “The monkeys are out of the cage,” he means that he has dispatched his monkey boys to create chaos.

Moscow City Council race: Passion, attacks escalate
Competing visions for Moscow become evident in final weeks of campaign

By Tara Roberts, Daily News staff writer

When Steve Busch ran for Moscow City Council years ago, it was simple. He signed up, found a treasurer and ran. “I think those days are gone,” Busch said. “It’s a lot of work, a lot of abuse, and one person can’t do it by themselves anymore.”

It seems candidates in Moscow now must have a group working for them, Busch said. For six of the seven candidates on Tuesday’s ballot, that group is either the Greater Moscow Alliance or the Moscow Civic Association.

Busch is the president of the GMA, which was established in 2006 to promote free enterprise and property rights. The GMA endorsed Dan Carscallen, Wayne Krauss and Walter Steed. The MCA was established in 2002 to work for progressive and sustainable communities. It endorsed Aaron Ament, Tom Lamar and Linda Pall. Evan Holmes is not endorsed by either.

This is the first City Council election with both groups involved. On newspaper opinion pages, online forums and city streets, discussion about the groups’ views and purposes — and what that means for the candidates they endorse — have sometimes become heated.

“I really enjoy seeing what happens in elections, and honestly I can’t remember one quite this angry or passionate or whatever you want to call it,” said B.J. Swanson, vice president of AmericanWest Bank in Moscow and chairwoman of the Gritman Medical Center board of directors. Swanson once paid dues to the MCA but said she has not been officially involved since. “It’s good to see people passionate, particularly about wanting to elect their representatives. On the other hand, it’s gotten kind of dirty, which I don’t like to see.”

To see harsh claims against candidates and groups, all a person has to do is look at local letters to the editor, Busch said. “There’s been some pretty sharp comments made,” Busch said. “I would say more on the opposing side than our side, but they probably say the same thing.”

MCA president Bruce Livingston said there has been “a drumbeat of letters to the editor” accusing the MCA of being no-growth and anti-business. Livingston disagrees with the accusations but doesn’t think the discussion is a bad thing. “I think it’s healthy to debate thoroughly and intensely these matters that are going to shape our community,” he said.

Busch agreed. He expects voter turnout to be higher than usual because heated debate surrounding the campaign has sparked peoples’ interest. “If that’s what it takes to get people interested in local politics . . . that’s probably a good thing,” he said. However, Bush and Livingston said the discussion shouldn’t turn into personal attacks.

Comments have turned personal on local online forums, including Swanson said the anonymity offered online allows people to “say whatever they want to say in there,” which may not be good or helpful. On the other hand, she said, anonymous online posters can speak their minds without fear of retribution. Anonymity makes it easy for some people to be “as vile as they want,” Busch said. “You wouldn’t say that to them face to face.”

Livingston said the discussion has mostly been “heartfelt and passionate,” but the climate of the election took a negative turn in recent days. “The personal attacks on character and these charges of religious persecution are a different matter, and in that sense I think this election has sunk to a new low,” Livingston said.

Moscow’s Christ Church came to the forefront of the discussion Saturday, when Pastor Douglas Wilson posted a suggestion on his blog that people should vote against Ament, Lamar and Pall. On Monday, Christ Church member Dave Glasebrook carried a sign in downtown Moscow that read “Vote the Bigot Party, Ament, Lamar, Pall.” Every candidate, including those endorsed by the GMA, said they were not affiliated with Glasebrook’s protest.

Other voices on the Moscow political scene say otherwise, connecting Glasebrook’s protest to Wilson’s blog, and Wilson and Christ Church to the GMA. Bill London, an MCA member and frequent voice against Christ Church, said the debate stayed appropriately on issues, not personalities, until the blog and the sign. “At that point I think this election has slipped from the issues to the realm of divisive,” London said. “It’s clear in my mind that it can be laid directly at Wilson’s feet and should be.” London said the GMA and Christ Church are connected at Bob Hieronymus, NSA executive vice president and a GMA board member. “My view of the GMA candidates, especially Krauss and Carscallen, is that they were found, nurtured, promised money and support and told it would be a cake walk and we’ll get you on the council, which synced with their willingness to serve,” London said. “They made, in essence, a pact with the devil, I think.”

Glasebrook said his protest was religious, not political. He said Ament, Lamar and Pall were part of a history of harassment toward Christ Church and its affiliated organizations, including New St. Andrews College downtown. Wilson said he did not send Glasebrook to the street corner and the protest “is not (his) style,” but he too believes Christ Church has been unfairly targeted. After Glasebrook’s protest, Lamar came to talk with him, Wilson said. “I basically told Tom that we haven’t sent Dave on the mission . . . but what his sign said was true,” Wilson said. “I told him you have to pay attention to a broader story.” That story lies in city rules being used to attack Christ Church, Wilson said.

Complaints such as those regarding NSA’s location and boardinghouses where NSA students stay stem from people who want to hurt the church, he said. If council members don’t take the source of complaints into account, “then the City Council is going to be a cat’s paw for the people who are bigots.”

Wilson’s blog posting instructs readers that “the simplest rule of thumb is to vote for no incumbents,” listing Ament, Lamar and Pall. “They have been hip-deep in the antics of the last several years. . .” Wilson wrote. “True, Lamar is a recent addition, but if you combine his name with Ament’s, we get LAMENT, and I don’t think we can risk it.”

Wilson gave two lists of reasons not to vote for the incumbents, “first on the question of their religious bigotry,” then “about the council’s broader issues, and I am using the word issues in both senses.” Wilson said the statement against the incumbents “had to do with how you voted, not whether you were a reasonable human being or not,” he said. “It’s nothing personal.” Wilson said calling someone a bigot is personal, but pointing out bigotry is not. He said he did not want to simply say “vote for GMA candidates” because he does not believe Holmes is an “Intolerista” — Wilson’s word for intolerant secular liberals. Wilson said he’s not a member of the GMA. Wilson said his blog was “political in self-defense,” but “not political in the sense that we’re trying to take things over.” Those that don’t believe him should “do what Tom Lamar did,” Wilson said. “He came and talked to me. He came and asked. If you’re continuing to simply be spooked or freaked out based on what you hear about a group you don’t know anything about, that’s what bigotry is.” Wilson said the conflict between the GMA and MCA has created a two-party political system in Moscow. “Once things get polarized, it’s awfully hard to unpolarize them,” he said. “The monkeys are out of the cage.”

Livingston said there have been differences of viewpoint, but not partisanship. Other than the “bigot smear,” the campaign has been heated, but not divisive. “I still feel like I could sit down over a beer with Dan Carscallen and talk about this stuff amicably even though we disagree on issues,” he said.

Busch said the GMA and MCA definitely create a partisan feel with their different philosophies. The two can agree to disagree, but the split remains. “Moscow politics has become a full-contact sport,” he said. “If you’re going to run for office, you’d better have a thick skin and be ready to take some shots that aren’t justified.”