A few months ago I met Jay Ashcroft, the Republican candidate running against Rep. Jill Schupp (D-88) for the Missouri Senate 24th District seat, while he was walking through my neighborhood greeting potential voters. He came across as personable in a somewhat feckless way and he was hauling one of his cute little kids in his wake, all calculated to thrill folks in my heavily Republican neighborhood who, presumably, remember the heyday of his father, George W. Bush’s very conservative Attorney General, John Ashcroft. Many of us have been counting on Rep. Jill Schupp to bring our district into the Democratic fold, but I have to admit that this show of early campaign zeal on the part of this scion of the Missouri Republican establishment left me a bit worried that she might not be able to waltz into the Senate.
And I was right to be worried – but not because Ashcroft has been burning up the shoe-leather on my neighborhoods’ sidewalks, but because the Ashcroft name elicited the predictable Pavlovian slobbering from the GOP establishment. Lots of big GOP donors jumped in to help the baby Ashcroft take his first big political step. He harvested almost $60,000 from Rex Sinquefield alone, although the lion’s share of his financial support has come from Missouri Republican pols hoping to reinforce their Senate majority:
Republican state senators have bankrolled Ashcroft’s campaign, providing $570,411 through a joint political action committee and $110,505 through their individual campaign committees. Ashcroft said that did not obligate him to side with them.
Yeah right … . As you might surmise from that coy comment, Ashcroft is attempting the Ann Wagner say-nothing approach in order to avoid alienating any group of potential backers, a strategy that has a better chance of working in his case since, unlike Wagner, he is a newcomer with no political record that might give his actual positions away. He has been so noncommittal that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Virginia Young concluded that “his positions on issues often seem under development.”
What’s not under development, though, is Ashcroft’s willingness to adopt the GOP’s tried-and-true smear techniques. I recently received a mailer from the Ashcroft campaign telling me that Jill Schupp, who spent much of her time in the Missouri House struggling against GOP policies that would decimate the welfare of the state’s children, is enabling – wait for it – “sexual predators” in our schools. That’s right, she’s hand-in-glove with pederasts, according to Ashcroft. I understand from today’s Post-Dispatch that his campaign’s been airing TV spots making the same claims.
The mailer cites a number of bills, many of which do include the provisions that touch on issues involving sex-offenders. Many of these bills are omnibus bills chock full of unrelated changes to the state’ criminal code or other bodies of law. Consider SB815 from 2010, which Ashcroft cites, which requires candidates for School boards to submit “documentation to the election authority to demonstrate that he or she does not have disqualifying information on the family care safety registry and does not have any substantiated claims of child abuse on the central child abuse registry.” It also has lengthy provisions concerning charter school governance, school finances, teacher requirements, teacher compensation and governance, and much, much more.
Careful politicians don’t just vote for part of a bill, or for a single-focus bill’s worthy intentions; they want to know what it will achieve in toto and, if like Jill Schupp, they’re conscientious, they take the big picture into consideration. They want to know if the goal has already been realized in other existing or pending legislation, or if it will have any unintended, negative consequences. Given the propensity of this predominantly Republican legislature to carelessness when drafting legislation, one would ask for no less.
The Post-Dispatch quotes Emily van Schenkhof, deputy director of Missouri Kids First, a child welfare lobbying group that, who not only takes issue with Ashcroft’s smearing of Schupp, but who adds that such campaigning has the potential to discourage good legislation dealing with child sex-offenders:
Van Schenkhof said ads portraying isolated votes as favoring predators are “going to make it harder for us to do thoughtful policy work on sex offenders, because people aren’t going to want to get involved in these conversations”.
It’s fair to expect politicians to be accountable for their votes, but when it comes to how they vote on particular bills, it’s important to make sure one has all the information. It’s especially important when the information is coming near the end of a close election and the source is an individual who himself doesn’t seem to want to go on the record on any of the hard questions if it might result in election-day blowback, but who is more than willing to distort his opponents voting record.
Is it possible that along with the generally bad smell emanating from the Ashcroft campaign in the wake of this last, shameful maneuver, one can also detect a whiff of desperation? Maybe all that second-hand, GOP greenback courage isn’t working the way it was supposed to and the Ashcroft heir is running scared?