Our Oct. 31 article on the dust-up in the Kern High School District race for the open Area 4 seat attracted some fiery criticism from two prominent Colebrook supporters, political consultant Cathy Abernathy and state senate candidate Shannon Grove.
To recap: Jenifer Pitcher reacted sharply to a recent Bryan Colebrook campaign mailer, paid for by the Kern County Young Republicans PAC and featuring a personal, signed letter to voters from Colebrook. The mailer notes, in a grid-like comparison box, that Colebrook is "Married with 3 children & 1 on the way"; Pitcher is "Unmarried, no children"; and Janice Graves, the third contender for the seat, is a "Widow with 3 children."
Pitcher fired back with a press release immediately after the flier hit mailboxes that charged Colebrook with "negative campaign tactics": "In a purely negative campaign tactic," her campaign staff wrote, "Colebrook attacked Pitcher for not having children. ... Voters should decide who to vote for based on each candidate’s qualifications and background, not on how many children they presently have.”
Things heated up when Colebrook appeared on KERN Radio's Ralph Bailey Show Tuesday and, according to the host, said "he would question the motives of a school board candidate who did not have children."
When Bailey pushed him on that statement, the host said, Colebrook "turned beet red and was literally, physically shaking," and "leaning toward him" — menacingly, I assume Bailey means. Bailey abruptly ended the interview, insisting he didn't feel safe. Colebrook then "stormed out," according to Bailey, claiming he had been "set up."
Grove texted me, and later telephoned, to say that the Young Republicans got the family-and-children information used in the mailer from none other than The Californian, which had published it in "bio boxes" accompanying our Oct. 2 article on the race.
"You obviously thought it was important information to put under each of their photos (in the Oct. 2 article)," Grove wrote. "The YRs used YOUR information, almost boxed (on the page in) the same way.
"... TBC didn’t think ... (it was) being dirty, or awful, when ... (it) posted the exact information! It’s a double standard ..."
I tried, and mostly failed, to explain to Grove that The Californian asks for and publishes family information on all political candidates in races it profiles. We did not, in this instance or any other, try to insinuate that family circumstances of any kind should qualify or disqualify any candidate for office. And Pitcher seemed not to have taken the information we published about her in that way.
But, did Colebrook (or the Young Republicans PAC), using the same information, take it a step farther and try to insinuate that Pitcher's marital status diminished her qualification for office? Well, it doesn't matter what you or I might think — Pitcher claimed he did, and her campaign issued a press release saying so.
At this point, this still isn't much of a story; at 5 p.m. Tuesday it was a two-paragraph item in a much longer political notebook. Then we got wind that Colebrook had articulated the idea that Pitcher's lack of children suggested her motive for running was not the high-minded pursuit of quality public education she claimed so much as political ambition. When Bailey pressed Colebrook on that statement — which would seem to validate Pitcher's objection — the tone of the radio interview went south quickly. Now we had a somewhat bigger story.
But Grove was sticking to her story: The Californian had previously published information about the candidates' families, and so Pitcher had no reason to be offended by the Colebrook mailer's references to it. (That Colebrook mailer, I should note, included a nice Colebrook family portrait and made three separate references to his spouse, three children and soon-to-arrive fourth, in addition to noting Pitcher's lack thereof.)
Grove made a more striking observation when she pointed out that Pitcher had falsely identified herself as a Republican in a video interview with TBC Media recorded Aug. 21.
"She lied right to your face," Grove texted.
Indeed, Pitcher responded to a question about her credentials by noting she was "a conservative, a Republican." But on May 18, according to the Kern County Elections Division, she had changed her party affiliation from Republican to Libertarian.
According to county records, Pitcher, 32, first registered, at age 18, as "Decline to State" but in 2009 officially became a Republican and remained so for a decade. Until this year.
"I honestly forgot (during the on-camera interview) I had switched parties," she told me Wednesday. "I still vote Republican. I just didn't like the direction the party was going. I saw the Republican Party getting away from conservative values. The question should be, why are so many people doing the same thing? Look at registration numbers. People are leaving both parties.
"I wasn't trying to be deceptive."
Grove seems certain that she lied. Of course, she is equally certain that Colebrook supporters did not try to establish, however subtly, any claim of "superior" family credentials with that mailer.
"Just because she said it doesn’t make it true," Grove said.
Grove is correct about that. Welcome to election season, where everything your candidate says is ironclad fact and everything your opponent dredges up is a lie.
Why, you might ask, should anyone care whether Pitcher has registered as a Republican, a Libertarian or something else?
Because, as Grove told me, KHSD Area 4 "is a Republican district. Look at the numbers. These are all Republican voters. Why would you switch parties in a Republican district?"
And, indeed, although Republicans and Democrats are almost dead even in terms of registration numbers within the boundaries of the Kern High School District as a whole (97,615 to 96,918 in favor of Republicans), Republicans dominate in Area 4, 28,053 to 17,320.
But then party affiliation "is irrelevant since she's running for a nonpartisan office, which we tried to explain to the (Republican) Central Committee members who were trying to get that information," Karen Rhea, Kern County's registrar of voters, told me last week. "... It's a school board. Why should it matter?"
It matters because, as Rhea well knows, to partisan people everything is partisan, even when it's not.
Reader: In the Oct. 28 paper, TBC (re-) published its election endorsements. In your column published that same day ("McCarthy's future hinges on three separate campaigns, all of them his"), you commented on how we could expect Kevin McCarthy to comfortably win re-election. It reminded me that in your Oct. 20 Sound Off column, you responded to the (presumably rhetorical) accusation that the paper was paid off to endorse Kevin McCarthy. You gave us your “take” on the paper’s endorsement. I’m basically responding to that — sorry to take a week to write in.
You noted that Kern County is solid-red and McCarthy is the best person to pursue the president’s agenda. This is what the majority of the people in Kern County want, “based on demonstrated voter preferences.”
So, basically, the endorsement is not because the editorial staff thinks he is doing a good job. You are not saying you agree with his stated opinions on any particular set of issues. At no point do you say that you think that the citizens of Kern County would be better off with him representing them than if his opponent were elected. You only say that the endorsement is based on what you think your readers want to read.
I am glad hear that you plan to continue to hold McCarthy’s “feet to the fire,” but you should strive to do more than just endorse a man because he will probably win in any case.
— David Gove
Price: You've put your finger on one of the eternal debates that occupy the time and collective stress level of many newspaper editorial boards: Do they base endorsements on strict ideological agreement with the candidate under consideration? On his performance in the district? On his performance on the national or statewide stage? On his general popularity back home? On his likelihood of victory?
To a degree, all five should be factors — decreasing in importance as you move down the list. But our endorsement editorial really addressed only three, and it started halfway down: Performance on the national stage, popularity in the district and likelihood of victory.
McCarthy is an unusual case because his most public and arguably most important role is as a nationally influential figure, not necessarily as a bringer-home of local legislative bacon. He controls, as much as anyone outside of specific congressional districts around the country can control, who runs and who wins. He is a recruiter, cheerleader and fundraiser. That's a vital role in Congress, and one, judging by that aforementioned popularity, his Central California constituents value.
McCarthy also has a certain amount of sway with this president — probably as much as any legislator could hope to have, anyway. We make light of his "My Kevin" persona, but the truth is that there's a smidgeon of "My Donald" trust and collegiality working in the other direction, and that's not to be underestimated. And, let's face it, President Trump needs as much reality-grounded advice as he can get, and McCarthy seems capable of supplying it. Many advisors have left this president's side for one reason or another, and knowing what we know about these two men, we're fortunate that McCarthy hasn't. Even if it means watching McCarthy deliver dead-on-arrival $23.4 billion border wall bills to the red meat-loving masses on election eve.
So, in this somewhat convoluted sense, the editorial board agrees, Kern County is better off with McCarthy in Washington than his opponent.
Would we like to see McCarthy make more local, non-fundraiser public appearances? Yes. Would we like to see some town hall meetings? Yes. Would we like a more realistic, can-do approach, and more leadership, on immigration reform? Yes. But, everything considered, our editorial board reasoned, McCarthy was the right pick.
Reader: The one feature typical for other newspapers but lacking for TBC is the ability to revise comments submitted on stories. Usually there is a limited time window for a submitter to have a “second thought.” In my case that usually means a spelling error that got by me or even a sentence that isn’t easily understood and needs revision. In some cases I’ve forgotten to add HTML code to separate paragraphs and seeing the whole thing as one great big pile to text wish to go back and fix that.
So now my comment at the base of the story about Valadao’s propaganda TV ads has a spelling error I can’t fix. Dammit!
— Stephen A. Montgomery
Price: I asked Spencer Hersom, our newsroom digital developer, about this issue and he came back with bad news. "Unfortunately," he emailed, "it is not at all fixable if we are using the commenting engine" that comes with our content management system. So, until that changes, Steve, just copy your error-riddled comment, create another comment entry, paste in the old comment, make your corrections and then hit send. Everyone will understand.