Negative campaign mailers spark early memories of life lessons

By Vicki Hyatt | Nov 08, 2012

My interest in politics and government came from an unlikely source at an relatively young age.

Our ranch in Montana was at the point where three gravel roads intersected. Everyone knew my dad always had the coffee pot on, and in between feeding or other chores, neighbors would drop in for coffee. When another would drive by and see several other pickups parked, they’d stop in too, not wanting to miss anything. The conversation often turned to politics and government.

It was 16 when the Occupational Safety and Health Act was being proposed. One morning, it became a topic for the half dozen or so ranchers crowded around our small kitchen table. All were worried the law would bring the federal government to their ranches and lead to inspectors snooping around for things like spilled diesel fuel or unsafe augers in their granaries or not taking proper precautions when working cattle.

As an active participant in all such conversations, I began asking questions like “how can that be?” or “why don’t you get involved and do something about this?” I decided we needed to write a joint letter our Congressmen, so began researching the issue, something that sent me to the local library where I discovered the complexities of proposed and enacted federal legislation.

When our U.S. senator visited town, he was perplexed that a high school girl in a county with a population of less than 6,000 would be quizzing him about OSHA. College professors were equally as perplexed when that was a topic I chose for assignments (the research was done, so why not?)

I had discovered that many of the fears our neighbors had about the reach of federal government into their agricultural practices didn’t apply to them. Indeed 40 years later, not a single individual in the Whitebird community of Stillwater County, Montana, has had a visit from an OSHA inspector.

The 19 political attack mailers that arrived in my mailbox a day or two before the election reminded me of my early interest in politics, as well as lessons on how fears and talk can be far different from the facts.

In past years, I’ve looked into the attack mailers enough to know there’s a grain of truth in them, but the issue is distorted to the point of being ridiculous. For instance, the  charges that so and so has voted to spend money for something that clearly seems extravagant can be part of a state facility and  actually funded with revenues earned by the institution. The item under attack had been included in the state budget simply as a pass-through. That part, of course, is omitted from the political mailers.

Another “grain of truth” can simply be that the expense questioned is part of the state budget, a massive document that the General Assembly must pass each year. The state constitution requires a balanced budget, and unlike Congress, the members of the General Assembly must complete this task.

Legislators who votes”yes” on the balanced budget the General Assembly ultimately crafts have been called to task in political attack mailers for some obscure fact that’s propelled into a sinister or wasteful action.

I hate the political mailers not only because of the distorted information they present, but also because they distract all of us from the real issues facing us as a state and a nation.

Attack mailers have become the campaign tactic of choice by both political parties, which tell me candidates (or the interests backing them) believe they are effective.

I have fond memories about the conversations of my dad, Pederson, Willie Van, Freddy, Alfred, Jack Kampinennen, Ole and the others who my mother not so affectionately referred to as the “coffee crew.” (It was hard for her to work in our small kitchen with so many visitors in the house, and the coffee hour often extended into the lunch hour, when more bowls of chili or whatever was being served were added to the table.)

There were also life lessons to be learned at that table on many fronts, and this political season has reminded me of one. There are plenty of conversations, speculations and accusations that are not based on facts. The answers are out there. It simply takes a willingness to seek them.