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‘Swiftboating’ comes to Senate District 19 race

Posted: September 1, 2008 2:45 p.m.
Updated: November 3, 2008 5:00 a.m.
When it comes to political campaigns, informed voters pay attention to the media - but herein lies the problem. How do voters know if certain patterns of persuasion/fallacies are being used by pundits in the media and politics to sway their opinions?

"Swiftboating" is a smear campaign waged on misinformation and allegations so damning the public is disinclined to give the target the benefit of the doubt.

There is a major battle presently brewing in the Senate District 19 race between Democratic candidate Hannah Beth Jackson and Republican Tony Strickland.

Recently, Jackson's legislative record came under a swift boat attack in a television ad in which the announcer stated that most, if not all, of Jackson's legislative efforts resulted in increased taxes.

The producers of this ad were taking great liberties in the use of many fallacies to get their point out. Jackson's team quickly refuted the ad, and Jackson even wrote Strickland a letter asking him to disavow the ad and have it withdrawn.

Political dirty tricks have long been part of the American political landscape, but now the attacks are getting more sophisticated and are being waged by "surrogates."

According to public information on file at KSBY and KEYT broadcast television stations in Santa Barbara, a group called the "California Taxpayer Protection Committee" is behind the attack ads against Jackson.

Dysfunctional campaign-finance laws complicate matters. There are no restrictions on how much a third-party group can spend on a campaign (including running negative campaign ads) as long as it doesn't outright support a specific candidate.

These attacks give Strickland the opportunity to distance himself from any responsibility for the contents of the ads because these ads were produced by a third party not directly involved with his campaign.

To fully appreciate the competitive political environment in Senate District 19 (Ventura County, Santa Barbara County and part of Santa Clarita) and why these political attacks are being waged here, one must revisit the 2001 gerrymandering of state legislators' districts.

In that decision, the 18th District - which formerly extended through San Luis Obispo County toward Santa Cruz - was moved inland, while most of Santa Barbara County moved into the 19th District, which extends through Simi Valley.

The new boundaries were based on population figures from the 2000 Census, as mandated by state and federal law, to ensure equal representation in each district.

The Santa Barbara coastline and Ventura, which were once represented by Democratic Sen. Jack O'Connell (Senate District 18), fell under the vastly reconfigured district of Republican Sen. Tom McClintock (Senate District 19). McClintock was one of the most conservative members of the Legislature.

Residents living in the Central Coast communities of Ventura, Oxnard, Santa Barbara and Ojai have felt disenfranchised ever since.

Fast forward to 2008.

Keeping things in perspective, it is no wonder that as McClintock leaves his seat after being termed out, Jackson has emerged as a viable Democratic contender to take on Strickland for District 19.

She has the potential to turn a previously Republican-stronghold district into a Democratic one.

With so much at stake, the prospect of a positive campaign focusing on the issues doesn't look good.

Political campaign teams, in order to prepare for the inevitable attacks, must conduct "rapid-fire response" research.

This research deals with responding quickly to any stories or attacks perpetrated by the opponent or his or her supporters. If a candidate lets a swift boat attack go unchallenged, the results can be devastating. Just ask Sen. John Kerry.

Many candidates set up "smear sites" on their Web sites where they record attacks and post their rebuttals. Jackson's team responded immediately to the "higher taxes" swift boat attack. The response can be found on her campaign Web site at

Now more than ever, our citizens need to be better informed. Skilled journalists, citizen journalists, and other writers who are well informed on a variety of subjects - including politics, history and the media - need to assist the voters by providing accurate facts, thoughtful judgment, context, and definition of key issues, including the analysis of political ads and statements.

In the meantime, it is important that candidates continue to conduct rapid-fire response activities, as Jackson's team is doing. In addition, they must post their rebuttals where voters can access this information.

Journalists, citizen journalists, knowledgeable bloggers, we need you to continue to inform and educate our citizens.

Cal Planakis is an independent civic journalist who lives in Santa Clarita. She is a member of the Democratic Alliance for Action of Santa Clarita. Her column reflects her own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.


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