10/21/10: Distractions in the 2nd District campaign

This op-ed appeared in The Virginian-Pilot on the date shown.

I’M NOT a psychic, but my column last week proved prescient. With less than two weeks to go until Election Day, somebody is trying to create a car wreck, hoping to get voters to rubberneck instead of remaining focus on the issues.

Monday afternoon, somebody distributed an e-mail that had been sent seven months ago by the chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia Beach. The e-mail contained a racist joke.

Within a few hours, the e-mail had made its way across Virginia and to some national sites. Every major newspaper in the state, including this one, wrote about it. The local TV news carried the story.

With condemnation coming from every quarter, the beleaguered chairman resigned that evening. His name is no longer on the RPVB website. Also gone is the picture of him with his congressional candidate, which had been on the front page.

By Tuesday afternoon, eyes were once again trained on the 2nd Congressional District as another e-mail emerged. This one was sent about three months ago by a former chair of the RPVB. The e-mail contained the link to a racist video about President Barack Obama. Condemnations once again flowed, and the endorsement of this person has been scrubbed from the candidate’s website.

Three men — Kenny Golden, Glenn Nye and Scott Rigell — have spent months traveling the district and communicating with voters. They have knocked on doors and participated in debates. They have willingly met with supporters and detractors, in friendly environments and hostile ones, all because they each believe they are the best one to represent us.

I know all three men. I’ve witnessed four debates. They have not strayed from discussing the issues, including jobs, the economy and the environment. They have stayed on message. Until now.

Because somebody decided to throw out the charge of racism, precious time is being spent by all three of them reacting to it. Because somebody decided to try to change the subject away from the issues that affect us all, our attention has been diverted. All of us have spent the last couple of days rubbernecking.

I’m not making light of racism. Racism is a stain on our society, one that I work daily to help erase. If one of the candidates were a racist, I’d not only want to know, but I’d want to try to make sure everyone knew.

But we have nothing that shows any of the candidates is a racist. The e-mails didn’t come from any of them. What we have is two people who, by sending those e-mails, participated in a racist act. And, as expected, the candidates have denounced their actions.

Neither of the perpetrator’s names appears on the ballot. This is an attempt to impute guilt by association, engaging in the politics of personal destruction. As a former candidate and someone who has had a taste of what that’s like, I abhor the practice.

There are real issues facing us: Unemployment is too high, foreclosures are too numerous, poverty is increasing and our schools are failing. Oh yeah — and traffic stinks.

Move along. Nothing to see here.