Migden-Daly’s Last Minute Dirty Trick

by Paul Hogarth on June 2, 2008

Over the weekend, progressive San Francisco precincts received a mailing or door hanger called the “Change Slate” – featuring the Bay Guardian logo, along with how to vote in tomorrow’s election. Created by Supervisor Chris Daly, it urged a vote for State Senator Carole Migden. But the Guardian endorsed Mark Leno – and Daly’s design was intentionally deceptive. DCCC incumbents David Campos, David Chiu and Laura Spanjian each gave about $2000 for its production – but were not told it would be so misleading. Curiously, the Residential Builders Association also paid $7000 for its creation – though the slate backs RBA critics Debra Walker, Robert Haaland and Eric Quezada for DCCC. Urging “progressive discipline,” Daly has called on activists mobilizing for the election to walk with the door hanger – but its controversy has only divided the left. Confusion among voters about who the Guardian endorsed in the Senate race could help elect Joe Nation, which may be what Migden (who cannot win tomorrow) really wants to see happen.

On the East Side, the San Francisco Bay Guardian’s endorsement has enormous clout for a core of progressive voters. Beyond the Guardian’s own promotion of its endorsements – which it traditionally calls the “clean slate” – campaigns backed by the newspaper often pool their money to create a slate card so voters can take it to the polls. Besides Daly’s “change slate” that hit voters’ mailboxes last Friday, a real Guardian slate card – which features Mark Leno for State Senate – has also been published for tomorrow’s election.

Information featured on Daly’s “change slate” is technically truthful – because in very fine print above the Guardian logo, it says: “all CHANGE initiatives and DCCC candidates endorsed by [the Guardian.]” In other words, the slate card supports Guardian-endorsed propositions and candidates for the Democratic County Central Committee – but never explicitly says that the Guardian endorsed Migden.

But anyone can see how misleading it is – and intentionally so. A typical voter inclined to vote with the Guardian will probably assume that everything on the slate is Guardian-endorsed. Nothing on the piece suggests that the Guardian did not endorse Migden, and it was clearly designed to undermine the Bay Guardian’s power in this race.

Calling it the “change slate” may also confuse voters with the Guardian’s self-proclaimed “clean slate.” Moreover, DCCC candidates endorsed by the “change slate” are the same candidates on Chris Daly’s HOPE slate that he created back in March. “Change” and “hope” are both popular campaign slogans this year because of the Barack Obama phenomenon.

It’s also curious that Migden is now part of a “change slate” – when she started her first debate with Mark Leno by saying “I am the status quo.” She then argued that her experience made her a better legislator, citing the importance to have people in Sacramento with “heft and continuity.” If Carole Migden is an “agent of change,” so is Hillary Clinton.

Tim Redmond, executive editor of the Bay Guardian, was not pleased with the “change slate” using the Guardian logo – and then falsely implying that they endorsed Migden. “Whatever you think of our endorsements,” said Redmond, “this is misleading. It’s a trick on the voters, using our name, and I don’t appreciate it.”

Campaigns across the spectrum use the Guardian and other newspapers all the time in misleading ways – such as using out-of-context quotes in hit pieces. But as Redmond pointed out, never in his 25 years with the Guardian has someone used their good name to imply that they endorsed a different candidate in a race.

I can only think of one similar story. Like the Guardian in San Francisco, progressive voters in Berkeley take Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA) endorsements very seriously – and many anticipate getting its door-hanger on the morning of Election Day. In 1986, moderate political hack David Shiver created a phony BCA door-hanger that featured a different list of endorsements – and even forged Congressman Ron Dellums’ signature.

Shiver’s fiasco is still the stuff of legends in Berkeley politics (where I served on the Rent Board before moving to San Francisco.) When Shiver resurfaced in 2002 to run a sleazy campaign against City Councilman Kriss Worthington, the local media took note.

Meanwhile, Daly does not believe he did anything wrong with the “change slate.” When Redmond called to express his disapproval, Daly said: “I’m unhappy too. You endorsed Mark Leno, who is not a progressive.” Daly then wrote on his blog about the need for “progressive discipline” – urging activists who were planning to work out of an office that various progressive campaigns are using to carry his highly deceptive door-hanger.

But not everyone who paid for the door-hanger is happy. DCCC incumbents David Chiu, Laura Spanjian and David Campos were each asked to contribute around $2000 for a piece that would endorse the “HOPE slate.” They obliged, but were never told that the Guardian would be used so deceptively to trick voters into supporting Carole Migden. They are unhappy, and told me that they will not be carrying the “change slate.”

According to late filings at the Secretary of State, the Residential Builders Association (RBA) also contributed $7000 to the “change slate.” But some DCCC candidates on that slate – Debra Walker, Robert Haaland and Eric Quezada – have long criticized the RBA on land use battles. Calls to the RBA were not returned by press time.

Of course, tricking San Francisco progressives into believing that the Guardian endorsed Carole Migden is not going to save her floundering campaign. She’s been reduced to a spoiler role, and the next State Senator will either be Mark Leno or Joe Nation. Rumor has it that Migden has come to peace with the fact she will lose, but she’s staying in the race to make sure that Leno does not win. In other words, she’s willing to sacrifice a progressive seat to inflict revenge – a Tonya Harding approach.

While all that is rumor, we do know one thing for sure. If Migden siphons enough votes to elect Joe Nation, Chris Daly will blame it all on Mark Leno for running. In fact, he already has. We’ll be stuck with a Senator who takes money from landlords and PG&E, opposes single payer health care, and sides with the insurance companies. But those who waged a scorched-earth battle against Leno will refuse to blame themselves.

FUN FACT: In the 2006 District 6 Supervisor race, both Mark Leno and Carole Migden endorsed Chris Daly for re-election. Joe Nation endorsed Rob Black.

EDITOR’S NOTE: As a private citizen, Paul Hogarth has endorsed Mark Leno for State Senate and is volunteering outside of work hours. He plays no advisory role on the Leno campaign.

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