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Scorch earth politics
The political spin is so fast and furious weeks out from the election that many dizzy voters are growing nauseous.

It seems everyone mentions how sick they are of negative political ads. Why, then, do those running for office often find themselves slinging mud at their opponent?

Simple, said California State University, Stanislaus political science professor Lawrence L. Giventer - because negative ads work.

"Everybody deplores negative, so-called attack ads, but they absolutely work," said Giventer. "People often vote in opposition to something that's detracting about a candidate rather than an affirmation to a particular policy or characteristic. This is a long tradition in this country."

The "tradition" of negative advertising, he said, goes back to the Jefferson-Adams presidential contest of 1800 where there was a "no holds barred" barrage of insults and insinuation. Presidential candidate Grover Cleveland was hounded by reports that he fathered an illegitimate child. Giventer said that today virtually anything goes with the outlandishness of political spin. "In politics it's all about winning and winner takes all so often it's whatever it takes to win."

With the Nov. 2 election just 13 days away, political fur in flying on the radio and TV waves and it seems each day brings slick mailers aimed at tearing down an opponent. It's not just limited to the Jerry Brown-Meg Whitman contest for governor. Negative ads have been embraced in both local state Senate and 18th Congressional District races.

Anthony Cannella said he decided to attack opponent Anna Caballero in the 12th Senate District race after she "came right out of the gate with her flat out lies."

Caballero's campaign has issued a barrage of negative mailers aimed at ripping into Cannella as mayor of Ceres. In one, Cabellero accused Cannella of tripling fees as mayor of Ceres, and directing contracts to his engineering firm, which Cannella says would be illegal if true but states it's an "outright lie."

Another Caballero spin casts aspersions on Cannella for taking a "full salary" as a mayor while living off of his salary as president of his engineering firm. Caballero's ad failed to mention the "full salary" of mayor is only a $350 per month stipend.

In another mailer, Caballero chides Cannella for his association with the building community. She said Cannella - he owns an engineering firm in Modesto - is too cozy with builders and accepts their donations. The mailer backfired; the California Building Industry, who named Cabellero "Legislator of the Year," condemned her assertions. The Modesto Bee editorialized Cabellero's assertions as "whoppers...that are outright lies."

"She hasn't talked about her record," mused Cannella. "We've done a great job managing growth."

A labor group, the California State Council of Service Employees, issued their own hit piece on Cannella, alleging that he participated in a "sweetheart deal" with a developer in 2004. Cannella "looked the other way while his client developed houses on our parkland without council approval," the mailer stated, then suggests he covered it up and was paid off with thousands in campaign contributions.

The union based the piece on a well publicized situation with Davante Villas in Eastgate but strays far from what actually happened. In 2004 City Engineer Joe Hollstein and Planning Director Randy Hatch mistakenly approved a subdivision map for Nova Development's Davante Villas before the city had amended the Eastgate master plan to reflect a decision to scale down planned park space. Hollstein and Hatch said they simply did not check to see if all conditions had been made. The 2000 Eastgate master plan called for a 36-acre park and 10-acre soccer park but city officials felt a 10-acre neighborhood park would suffice. The reason? The 76-acre Ceres River Bluff Regional Park came into being just north of Eastgate. When the council decided on amending the plan for smaller park space Cannella stepped down from all the talk and voting - as the law requires - to avoid a conflict of interest since Cannella's engineering firm did business with Nova.

Cannella has gotten personal with Caballero, who is a California state assemblywoman in the 28th District. A Cannella radio ad script reads: "And even though Caballero is a defense attorney who represented a rapist and murderer in court, she gave taxpayers the bill for her son's criminal defense after he was arrested for armed robbery." Cannella's press secretary, Sabrina Lockhart said "it's outrageous that taxpayers had to foot the bill."

Bill Maxfield, a spokesperson for the Caballero campaign, said Cannella's ad "crossed the line" and issued this statement from Caballero: "The situation involving my son, Miguel, has been a tough test for our family, but I firmly believe that it is a private matter. I understand that politics and political campaigns can be tough. Your public record is fair game. But attacking someone's family is over the line and should be off limits. That Anthony Cannella would use something as highly personal as a mother's role in dealing with a troubled son is unacceptable and deserves repudiation."

Cannella's ad also swipes at Caballero's vote to slash education funding by $8.6 billion which resulted in teacher layoffs, and postponed purchases of textbooks. The ad states: "While cutting education Caballero voted to give welfare to drug felons."

Lockhart, defended the Cannella ad as as "simply stating the facts about publicly available information. It just shows her voting record."

Lockhart explained that the education cuts were contained in the 2009-10 state budget. Lockhart said Cannella would have instead gone after waste, and sought after streamlining education funding to get at the estimated 40 percent tied up in bureaucracy. She said Cannella would seek to "get money in the classroom where it's needed most."

Lockhart explained that Caballero voted for AB 1756 to repeal a Clinton Administration rule that barred drug felons from receiving welfare benefits by changing the eligibility for drug felons. Lockhart said Cannella is against welfare abuses, including welfare cards being used on cruise ships and out-of-state travel. He also supports requiring a doctor's note in order for residents to receive In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) to save the state an estimated $750 million.

In the 18th Congressional district race, Congressman Dennis Cardoza recently launched a negative radio ad on opponent Republican Mike Berryhill of Ceres. Berryhill is running a radio ad that attacks Cardoza's voting positions in Congress.

Cardoza is using his campaign war chest to take aim at Mike Berryhill's voting record as a member of the Turlock Irrigation District board of directors.

To the backdrop of an annoying water drip, Cardoza's ad states: "Every little drop counts. Well, maybe not if you're Mike Berryhill. Mike Berryhill served as part-time member of a water board for 26 years. He voted to raise his own salary over 60 percent. He voted to give himself retirement benefits for life. And Mike Berryhill voted himself health insurance coverage which he still gets even though he left the water board. All this for a part-time job where nearly 30 percent of the time he was late or skipped the meetings altogether? Mike Berryhill took care of himself at the water board, meanwhile consumers' electric rates zoomed up 35 percent in Berryhill's last term..."

Berryhill said the ad is unfair but expected political spin.

"I wish people would not even listen to him," said Berryhill. "It's slanted one way or another."

Berryhill did serve on the TID board for 26 years, and it is the board that sets pay for directors, just like Congress approves its own salary increases. But he said the salary increases were not excessive nor drove up water rates. Berryhill said his salary starting out was $500 a month but was double that 26 years later, having gone up in "small increments just to keep up with inflation."

As far as benefits go, Berryhill said TID pays for only half of the $8,700 annual premiums of health insurance.

Berryhill is running a radio ad in Merced County talking about Cardoza's support of "ObamaCare," cap and trade and a Stimulus Bill that "hasn't stimulated anything but debt." He also criticizes Cardoza for failing to hold town hall meetings to face the voters.

"We're hitting him on his record which he does not want to talk about," said Berryhill.

Berryhill and Cardoza faced off three times, including a meeting with the Modesto Bee editorial board.

Some political watchers say the Berryhill has failed to excite and generate cash to match Cardoza. Berryhill, who is not as well polished a campaigner as his two nephews who are serving in the state Assembly, drew criticism for firing his political consultant in August. Berryhill also failed to meet the deadline of filing of campaign finance reports. Berryhill said he asked his accountant "three or four times" if the report had been filed and it hadn't.

"I thought that had been taken care of a long time ago."

The reports have since been filed.

"Financing is a real challenge," admitted Berryhill, "but we're finding ways to do things cheaply."

Berryhill insists he will be victorious, aided by turn-out against Jerry Brown for governor. He says a Channel 30 poll proves he's within striking distance of Cardoza with the congressman at 50 percent, Berryhill at 44 and 6 percent undecided.

According to Cardoza, a poll conducted in late September by J. Moore Methods, Inc. found that Cardoza holds a 53 percent to 37 percent lead over Berryhill.