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Politics in Gwinnett is going to the hogs

As much as it pains me to say this, dirty campaign tricks work.

Why else would there be so many of them going on in the waning days of the 2008 primary election?

It's amazing that these issues seem so critical the four or five days prior to voting day while nobody seems to care the other 360 days of the year.

The State Ethics Commission is generally swamped with filings during campaign time. The rest of the year? Well, it doesn't seem people have as many ethics problems during the political offseason.

I can't remember ever covering an election in which a candidate didn't claim his or her campaign yard signs had been stolen. True or not, this news reflects poorly on the opposition. After all, who else would have motive?

I wasn't too far into my newspaper career when I discovered a twist on the stolen sign story - a candidate who stole his own signs. He'd retrieved several of his yard signs, stuck them back into the attic of his garage - presumably for his next campaign - and issued a press release complaining that his signs were disappearing at an alarming rate. He said he couldn't prove his opponent was the thief, but he was sure it was dirty politics. The man won his campaign. A few days after the election, he was cited for filing a false police report.

There was a time when the heavy-duty name-calling was reserved for those aspiring to higher state or federal offices. Increasingly, the mud has been trickling down to the local level.

What are the big issues of the campaign? A lot of what we've heard has little to do with the issues and more to do with political shenanigans.

An e-mail I received Friday contained 13 attachments of ethics filings, some in Gwinnet, some in Paulding. The subject line read: "These complaints are being filed TODAY!"

Other attacks in this campaign have been over county employees' presence in campaign material, the use of the state seal in campaign material and the expiration of an engineer's license. These distractions hinder those who really want to know how the candidates will govern if elected.

We're seeing more of this attack strategy because, as stated in the opening, it's working.

Voters respond to name recognition. That's why yard signs are so prevalent. The electorate learns nothing about the candidate - other than a name - from a yard sign. Yet I've heard people say they voted for a candidate because they had more sign support than the opponent.

So if name recognition can swing an election, attaching negativity to that name can swing it the other way.

Thus the scalawags work every angle: the truth, half-truths and complete fabrications.

There is a way out of this rut: Just say no to dirty politics. Are you with me?

Some tips to help the electorate separate the wheat from the chaff of political "news:"

n Consider the timing. Lawsuits, ethics complaints, allegations of malfeasance, corruption or scandal, etc. filed in the 11th hour are not being filed to right a wrong. They are being filed to defeat a candidate. There's no time for vindication because most of these issues aren't resolved until after the election. The damage is done.

n Consider the source. Negative campaigning can come from many directions. Is the opposing candidate laying claim to the charge or distancing themselves from it? Often, the more outlandish allegations are leveled by political operatives who may or may not be tied directly to the candidate. They can do the dirty work and their candidate stays clean. Be wary.

n Is the source playing to the media? The first piece of business for the dirty campaigner is to get publicity for the misdeed. When the Daily Post receives an e-mail informing us when and where a complaint will be filed - just in case we want to send a photographer - you wonder what is more important: the filing or the publicity the filing gets?

n Support candidates who don't lower themselves or their campaigns. I once was told, "Never wrestle with the pigs. You just get all dirty and the pigs love it." The candidate who rises above it should get points for doing so.

n Vote for candidates based on what they say about themselves and their accomplishments, not what they say about their opponents.

Some may interpret this a quixotic, some may see it as naïve. But the only way to get our elections out of the pig sty is to prove to those running that dirty politics won't get them elected.

J.K. Murphy is publisher of the Gwinnett Daily Post. E-mail him at jk.murphy@gwinnettdailypost.com.