Sheriff Bob White's re-election campaign effort includes automated telephone calls from his wife, Diane, warning absentee voters about potentially scurrilous political mail from his opponent. What the calls fail to point out is some of the information from the two-term incumbent sheriff should be taken with a grain of salt as well.
The White campaign isn't alone in this tactic, and in the next few days your mail box, answering machine and e-mail in box could become a receptacle for campaign statements boasting of dubious statistical achievements or, if past years are any indication, questionable and/or false allegations against an opponent.
In the sheriff's case, it is the braggadocio that is problematic. White's political mail and the campaign's Web site states the Sheriff's Office is 145 percent more likely to solve a crime than under the previous administration. But, as detailed by staff writer Molly Moorhead in an article published Oct. 19, the figure is inflated by 100 percent. The rate of cases closed by the Pasco Sheriff's Office is 45 percent higher now than in 2000.
For the sheriff's boast to be authentic, deputies would need to be solving nearly half of the criminal cases reported in the county. Instead, the closure rate is 29 percent — still above the statewide average.
Then there is School Superintendent Heather Fiorentino, who used multiple examples of how the school district has reduced the number of students dropping out of school.
Staff writer Jeffrey Solochek reported literature distributed by the Pasco Republican Party on Fiorentino's behalf reports a 37 percent decline in the dropout rate even though the figure has yet to be calculated by the state Department of Education. (Fiorentino approved the information.)
Fiorentino's own campaign mail piece puts the figure at 32 percent. A printable brochure from her campaign Web site, dated Sept. 10, states the district dropout rate "has declined dramatically'' without giving a specific number. In this case, the ambiguity is most accurate. Though the number of students quitting school has fallen, the state has yet to calculate the overall dropout rate.
Fiorentino, at least, acknowledged the error and said it shouldn't detract from the work of district employees trying to keep students engaged in their education. White's staff disputed the assertions it had overstated its success rate. Too bad, because it provides opponents with the opportunity to doubt the sheriff's credibility.
Consider the campaign bluster overstating incumbents' effectiveness just part of what we must endure every election year in a democratic society. Voters must sort through the emotional pitches about heroes, the handsome family photos (pets included), the Purple Hearts, unflattering grainy images, the trivia, the bunk and now the numbers so they can base their choices on the what's most relevant:
Issues and character.