Monday, February 19, 2018
Politics

Carlton: Even in a political world gone mad, truth in ads matters

We are busy with our actual lives, busy with work, kids and whether we remembered to buy dog food. What's more, we are battered to numbness by this particularly bruising political season, and so maybe we do not notice when shaded truths and outright distortions land in our mailboxes as Election Day looms.

Which, the cynical would say, is what some people bank on.

Republican State House Majority Leader Dana Young is squaring off against Tampa lawyer and Democrat Bob Buesing for an open Florida Senate seat — with strip club owner Joe Redner and Air Force reservist Sheldon Upthegrove running as no-party candidates. It's a close race that deserves a fair fight.

As the Times' Richard Danielson reports, a recent mailer from a group supporting Young links Buesing to Florida's infamous Taj Mahal scandal, when taxpayers were outraged to learn they were footing the bill for a lavish courthouse. Really, it's enough to just say "Taj Mahal" in connection with your opponent to leave a mark.

Buesing, a longtime lawyer with the Tampa-based Trenam firm, represented a general contractor who was working with an art gallery in connection with historic Florida photos to be framed and hung in the new courthouse. When the gallery's payment got held up in the scandal, it sued to get paid. A settlement was approved by Gov. Rick Scott and a mostly Republican legislative budget commission.

But boy, did Buesing sound way worse in that mailer than just a lawyer working to get the state to honor its contract.

The ad features the words "violates state law" and Buesing's picture. (Subtle.) But those words — taken from a Times article that doesn't even mention Buesing — referred to a government official who was pondering how to handle a "good faith" contract with a vendor when the work itself violated state law.

This reminds me of a trick candidates have been known to use when newspaper endorsements do not go their way. An editorial says candidate so-and-so "may be a decent guy, but is in no way fit to hold office." A subsequent mailer reads: Candidate So-And-So: "A decent guy!" — The News Gazette.

The mailer also uses a line from a Times editorial describing the Taj Mahal as a monument to "self-entitlement, insider dealing and the abuse of power." Even if in truth Buesing had no real role in the scandal proper and wasn't even mentioned in the editorial.

Young herself approved a similar TV ad bashing Buesing on the Taj Mahal matter.

There's more. (In this freakish election season, isn't there always?)

Another mailer pictures a sad-eyed little boy who (sarcasm alert) clearly went without textbooks and hot school lunches because of Buesing's implied greed. Actual story: His firm was hired to help the Manatee County School District investigate its own overspending, and the School Board attorney said in a newspaper story that the firm billed for work beyond what it was asked to do.

Buesing — one of 80 lawyers at Trenam — wasn't on the case.

So the question: Are we so numbed by political ugliness that we don't even notice political untruths and distortions? Because it matters. And maybe it says less about the candidate in the ad than one who thinks running this way is okay.

Sue Carlton can be reached at [email protected]

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