Nothing brings out the ugly of the democratic process like the closing weeks of an election. In Hillsborough County, residents are being deluged with mailers whose sole purpose is to smear a candidate as voters submit their ballots for the Aug. 26 primary. Here's a taste of the worst:
•A flier by a group calling itself the Conservative Values Coalition is using the crassest form of bigotry to trash School Board candidate Dipa Shah. It claims she is drawing support from "Muslims, Hindus and gay and lesbian" groups with the intent of "hijacking our school board to indoctrinate our children with their liberal agenda."
Shah, the daughter of Indian immigrants, has a compelling life story. A lawyer, business owner and activist in the school system, she has distinguished herself as the top fund-raiser in the eight-way race for the District 6 seat. Shah knew from the start she would need money to confront discrimination in this campaign. Sadly, she was right.
•A mailer Saturday accused Ed Narain, who's running for the Florida House seat in east and central Tampa, of being a "Rick Scott Republican" because Scott "appointed him to a board." That board would be the Children's Board of Hillsborough County, one of the best agencies in town and arguably the leading social services provider to children and struggling families in District 61.
It's shameful for the flier to assert that Narain "will sell our community out" while it lauds his leading challenger in the Democratic primary, Sean Shaw. Shaw is a Tallahassee implant who has raked in thousands of dollars from special interests outside the district. The mailer shows the people behind Shaw are as clueless as he is about what really makes a difference in that community.
•Tampa attorney Norman Cannella Jr. has no qualms about infusing politics in his race for a county judicial seat. In a recent mailer, he noted that his opponent, incumbent Judge Chris Nash, was appointed to the bench by Gov. Rick Scott — and political appointments, the flier said, mean one thing: "Political paybacks."
Cannella's flier is the usual hit job, with its conspiratorial tone and grainy photos. This is the same candidate who published a full-page photo in another flier of his father — who shares his name — standing in a flight suit under a Navy jet, and the same candidate who told the Tampa Bay Times that if Nash were not the incumbent: "I would bury him." So much for decorum and judicial restraint.
These last-minute ads are more lethal than ever, given the rise of early voting, which gives candidates and committees an extra couple of weeks to make the mud really stick. Their use is hardly an inspiring start to a career in public service.