Pensacola, Florida
Friday October 31st 2014

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Outtakes 11.04

BAN NEGATIVE ADS I hate negative political ads, especially the ones that involve personal attacks and have nothing to do with the office for which the candidates are running. The ads twist the truth, take statements out of context and rarely hold up when investigated. Oftentimes the attacks are made to cover up similar weaknesses of the candidate paying for the ads.

The professional campaign advisors will tell you that negative ads work, if you have enough money to run them continuously. Rick Scott paid millions to attack Attorney General Bill McCollum for being a government insider who wasn’t a true conservative and Scott won the Republican nomination for governor.

In college, I ran for student body president in what was thought to be a very tight race against four opponents. One of the planks of my platform was to create a student pharmacy on campus. I was blasted for wanting birth control pills on campus.

My campaign team was diverse with blacks, whites, Greeks and independents. Two of my close friends and campaign advisors were black football player Curtis Weathers, who went on to play linebacker for the Cleveland Browns, and Rose Jackson, who became the first African-American female in the Ole Miss Hall of Fame. My opponents spread the rumor that I took a black girl to my high school prom, which was considered a real slam in 1978.

None of the negative attacks worked and I won the election without a run-off, but the experience made me an adamant opponent against negative political ads.

In 2008, Lumon May was being pushed by his campaign advisors and the state Democratic Party to run negative ads against State Rep. Clay Ford. May had narrowed the gap against the incumbent Republican in a district that had been gerrymandered to be controlled by the GOP. The Democratic Party wanted May to publicize some discrimination allegations against Ford that were made over 10 years ago.

For several days, May and I talked about whether he should do it. In the end, he refused because he had committed to running a positive campaign. He wanted to be proud of how he fought the race and not be remembered for mean-spirited attack ads. May lost. His advisors still believe that his decision to not “go negative” cost him the race.

I believe that if you put principle above winning that you never really lose, which is why Lumon May is a respected leader in the community today.

In Pensacola, the political tradition is to “go negative” in the last Sunday edition before the election. W.D. Childers was infamous for it, buying full-page ads attacking his hapless opponent who didn’t have the campaign funds or time to respond.

Mike Wiggins followed the Childers’ tradition and personally went after his opponent Ashton Hayward in the Sunday, Oct. 31 edition of the Pensacola News Journal. He was abetted by columnist Mark O’Brien who also ran an anti-Hayward column. I hated to see it.

Last year, Pensacola voters approved a new city charter that created the strong mayor position in the belief that the mayoral race would be about issues, not personalities. Instead, the incumbent chose to attack not on issues, but on personality.

This column will go to press before I will know if Wiggins’ political strategy worked. For the sake of future Pensacola politics, I hope it did not.

rick@inweekly.net