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Mike Lawrence: Time for crampons

Firm footing needed in slippery election season

Despite the snow on the mountain and the frost on your windshield, it’s not ski season yet.

But it is the season of slippery slopes.

Now is the time of an election year when campaigns get dirty – or dirtier – and when campaign supporters start bypassing logic in earnest, using the slightest opportunity to make sweeping generalizations about an opponent.



For example, take a political ad from eastern Colorado, the state’s Fourth Congressional District. Incumbent, two-term U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, a Republican, is facing a challenge from Democratic state Rep. Angie Paccione.

The ad criticizes Paccione for her votes in the state House on issues related to illegal immigration, including Paccione’s support of a bill broadening access to in-state tuition. The ad concludes by stating that Paccione is on “the wrong side of the border,” as her photo is superimposed over an enlarged map of Mexico while a map of the United States fades away.



So because Paccione supports access to education, she is also : in favor of illegal immigration? Against border security? Applying for Mexican citizenship?

Who knows. The primary intent of the ad is not to inform, but to shock the viewer into believing a stereotype.

Musgrave alsohas been a victim of reckless exaggeration. Remember the “pink dress” ads of 2004, when an actress wearing a Musgrave-style outfit stole a watch from a corpse – as a tasteless and misguided reference to Musgrave’s vote about nursing home fees?

It’s an argument technique that debate coaches call a “slippery slope.” Starting with one factual premise, it’s easy to pile on exaggerations and slide downhill, until winding up at a conclusion that may seem logical, but is actually far from the initial fact.

Here in the state’s Third Congressional District, which covers part of southern Colorado and most of the Western Slope – the heart of ski country – slippery slopes are abundant.

And political campaigns are not immune.

The two candidates for Congress in the 3rd CD are verbally sparring about illegal immigration, in a dispute centered on legislation that would allow 698 miles of fencing along the Mexican border.

House Resolution 6061, or the Secure Fence Act of 2006, passed the House last week and was awaiting action in the U.S. Senate as of Tuesday afternoon.

U.S. Rep. John Salazar, a Democrat from the San Luis Valley, voted against the act on grounds that “throwing money at a fence” would not address existing border patrol needs for staffing, equipment and law enforcement.

Campaign staff for Scott Tipton, a Republican businessman from Cortez and nine-year chairman of the Republican Party in the 3rd CD, blasted Salazar for opposing the act.

“It seems to me to fly in the face of logic, to oppose something like this,” said Dirk Hallen, Tipton’s campaign director. “I don’t understand how you can say ‘Let’s secure our borders,’ if you don’t vote for this bill. (Salazar) just needs to admit that he supports open borders.”

It may seem incongruous to say that Salazar supports open borders because he opposes 698 miles of fencing. But the Congressman recently took a slide down a slope, as well, by drastically simplifying the effectiveness of the proposed barrier.

Although the Secure Fence Act calls for “at least two layers of reinforced fencing, additional physical barriers, roads, lighting, cameras and sensors,” Salazar told recently told the Pueblo Chieftain that: “Unless you put more Border Patrol agents on the border, anyone with wirecutters will go through a fence.”

When navigating political terrain during the next six weeks, make sure your boots have crampons and your ski poles are firmly in hand – it can get slippery out there.

– To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com


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