Sunday, June 29, 2008

More on the governor's public service announcements

As we noted before elsewhere, it would have been a simple thing for the administration to say that the governor's public service announcements (PSA's) that appeared after the primary were the result of some sort of careless clerical error over dates. Looking at the timing of it, that would have been a plausible defense, and upon which we would hope that the response of the Montana GOP would have been to say "shame on you," and then drop it.

It would have been painful to drop it, since the PSA's were pretty blatant (they prominently featured the governor's voice saying that "Montana's on the move" -- which is his campaign slogan.) But it would have been right to drop it and just tuck it away as one more example of carelessness, born perhaps of overconfidence.

But instead, the governor's office and campaign has continued to try to insist that nothing was done wrong, since the state didn't pay for the radio air time (does the state commonly pay for public service announcements anyway?)

Leaving aside the fact that state employee time and equipment were used to make the ads, we wonder -- if the PSA's were so legal and everything, why hasn't the governor continued to do more of them? Will we continue to see them through the campaign season? But of course, Democrats know that the whole point to the law that the governor himself signed was precisely to keep elected officials running for re-election or for another office from using PSA's to raise their name recognition and favorable image during election season. And the governor is an elected official running for re-election who appeared in a public service announcement during campaign season.

Often, Montana Headlines is in the position of saying that the GOP state party office has over-reacted to this or that misdeed by the Democratic party or Democratic candidates. We believe that a disproportionate response can become a sort of "crying wolf" that makes the public less likely to listen to us in the future when we have more serious assertions to make.

The Montana GOP is right not to let go of this one, though -- precisely because the administration has not been forthcoming about what should have been a pretty straightforward response from the governor of "my bad -- won't happen again." Again, it is the obfuscating response that is far more disturbing than are the ads themselves.


Update: Read the MT GOP's brief here. The governor has made a "motion to dismiss or for summary judgment," or put differently, a "please make this go away without my having to admit I did anything wrong" request. The MT GOP is correctly making a strong case that this would be the wrong thing for the commissioner of political practices to do.

The brief does have its amusing moments (such as when it refers to the governor's "maniacal insistence" that the case be dismissed summarily without the usual due processes of discovery and presenting evidence. And what exactly is "diaphanous conduct?" That one is a head-scratcher, unless it is legalese of some sort. But this is a typical Montana Headlines digression into wordsmithing.

The document is commendable for its clarity, restraint, and measured tone. The bottom line is that the governor put a campaign slogan into a PSA, and that the ad violates both the spirit and the letter of a law that the governor himself signed into law. We'll see what happens, but this round goes to the state GOP as far as we're concerned around MH.

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