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Russ Mitchell

The Mitchell Report

Russ Mitchell is editor of The Dickinson County News. He has been in Spirit Lake since January 2010 and began in journalism in 1997. The Mitchell Report can be about anything and everything. Comments are invited.

Aldo, Constance and a radar gun

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Here's a rhetorical question: Is it possible to be unfair to people on both sides of an issue?

I'm not the mayor or police chief of the opinion page — that would be my publisher and general manager — but I am traffic enforcement when it comes to letters to the editor. No one likes an officer that lets too many cars fly by at a high rate of speed. No one likes citations for everyone who doesn't quite come to a complete stop at a controlled intersection, either.

I've stopped a few speeders in the governor's race and legislative bids. Letters have arrived that you haven't seen because they are ads. You don't get free radio or television airtime to explicitly endorse Aldo the Alderman. Aldo, his friends, his party and his political action committee have to pay for that. I hope you understand.

But just because I pull a few cars over doesn't mean I want to clear the roads of traffic. So when Aldo happens to send out more newsletters and columns when his name is on the ballot, I'm not going to turn on my flashing lights. Elected leaders should be able to communicate with their constituents, and we're in the communication business.

The uptick in columns doesn't go unnoticed by Aldo's challenger, though. It's fair for Constance the Constable to express views that differ from Aldo the Alderman. But Constance, too, needs to stick to issues — not "vote for me" — when communicating with Aldo's constituents. Otherwise, Constance's party, PAC or friends need to chip in for an ad — just like Aldo.

"But, wait a minute," Constance might tell me. "Underneath Aldo's column it says 'Town Alderman' — even though he's sticking to issues, people know the office he has (and wants to keep). Plus his column comes with a picture. My views are just printed in the form of a letter."

OK, Constance, win and you'll enjoy the same advantage. In the meantime, you can speed, too, but keep it under 5 mph. Instead of signing your name "Constance Sanderson of Hawkeyeville," we'll allow "Constance Sanderson, Candidate for Alderman."

"But wait," Aldo might say. "By signing off as '(((italics))Candidate(((italics end)) for Alderman' doesn't that become a campaign letter?"

Maybe a little, Aldo, but your status as an incumbent allows you to speed a bit, too.

Going back to the rhetorical question: Constance might feel it's unfair for her incumbent alderman Aldo to pump out the off-session columns, which subtly keep him at the forefront during a campaign. Aldo might feel it's unfair for Constance to identify herself as a "candidate" in letters — especially when he hasn't done that.

From the dashboard of my cruiser, I'm just trying to make sure there's a safe, even flow of traffic. Despite some horn honking, everyone seems to be going the same speed.

Fair enough?