Politics not for sissies, but restraint would be nice

By David Stevens: FNNM Editor

The contrasts were sharp and painful.

In last week’s primary elections, Curry and Roosevelt counties’ sheriff candidates promoted their integrity, their professionalism, their dignity, their church affiliations, their commitment to family and their caring for community.

Some of those same candidates’ supporters, meanwhile, tore into opponents unchecked, without moral compass, with all the restraint of a coyote charging the open door of a chicken coop.

Darren Hooker, destined to become Roosevelt’s new sheriff unless something unusual pops up in the fall general election, was painted as a killer and a liar.

The truth on the killing is that, yes, Hooker shot and killed a man in the line of duty about five years ago. The attackers didn’t mention it was found by investigators to be a justifiable shooting.

As for the liar part, Hooker immediately fessed up after his educational background was misstated in a paid campaign advertisement. He corrected that fact and took responsibility for the error in a later ad.

Matt Murray, Tuesday’s winner in Curry County, was publicly accused of being a quitter and a coward, his supposed fear for personal safety blamed in the 1992 deaths of three children. It’s true Murray didn’t stop a drunken driver who killed the kids and it’s true he quit law enforcement for a while after the incident. But I wonder how many sheriff candidates we’d have if the job description included “emotionless” and “kamikaze tendencies.”

Hooker and Murray took the brunt of the public criticism in published reports — paid advertisements and letters to the editor. But hateful, unproven allegations ranging from infidelity to the inability to handle personal finances were slung at all the sheriff candidates through more private exchanges, including anonymous letters and telephone calls to media.

A spin doctor might say the Curry and Roosevelt sheriffs’ races were competitive. I think some people should be hanging their heads today, ashamed of the ethical sacrifices they made in effort to push their candidate into a position of power.

To their credit, the sheriff candidates themselves were not guilty of public mudslinging. They defended themselves when accused, but mostly resisted the temptation to attack back.

But if candidates can control themselves, why can’t they also control their supporters? I wonder how hard some of them try.

It’s difficult to sympathize with a politician — make no mistake, the sheriffs of New Mexico are politicians before they are law officers — and they knew politics was a contact sport before they signed up for the sheriffs’ jobs. But let’s not pretend that everybody who got hammered in this election was fair game for hammering. Innocent bystanders were victims, too.

Darron Smith of Portales is one example.

He’s new to the region and he hadn’t picked a side in the emotional Roosevelt County sheriff’s race. He didn’t even vote last week.

Yet, he was mistakenly blamed (and applauded) for an advertisement critical of sheriff’s candidate Hooker that was paid for by Darren Smith of Roswell.

Darron Smith of Portales, a professor of agriculture at Eastern New Mexico University, said he received multiple telephone calls and e-mails from people who thought he had placed the ad.

“I was stunned when my phone started ringing at 8 o’clock (last) Sunday morning when the ad came out,” he said.

Darron Smith of Portales also said he was surprised by the tone in the “nasty” campaign.

I wasn’t surprised. Just disappointed. As usual.

David Stevens is editor for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. He can be contacted at 1-800-819-9925. His e-mail address is:

david_stevens@link.freedom.com