Notes and comments on the election season

The general election campaign season is in full sway. Both radio and state television stations are flooded with near saturation advertising by candidates and special interest groups supporting or opposing candidates.Listening to all this static can be depressing, irritating and on occasion amusing. Unfortunately, it is not terribly enlightening.The vast majority of candidates are good people with experience, talent and ability. Somehow, that does not come through in the ads, and negative ads especially make everybody look like people with more defects than attributes. Fortunately, this is not the case, but it is easy to see why voters have a feeling by the time anyone actually is elected that all office holders are “bums.” This is a disservice.Second, negative ads generally are bad. They give us bad feelings, engender ill will, have a tendency not to enlighten us about anything and, hopefully, make us angrier at the messenger than the intended target.Conversely, some of the ads are light and relatively funny. Especially notable in this category are those run by Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Paul Hodes and the response to them by GOP candidate Kelly Ayotte. When Hodes says, “Kelly Ayotte and I just disagree,” it neither is negative nor critical and, frankly, refreshing. Ayotte’s response about Hodes’ “funny ads” and adding “baloney” to “pork” similarly is clever. It would be nice to think that neither campaign will get any nastier than these ads are, but do not count on it.Next, there are a series of ads that talk about Governor Lynch or former Health and Human Services Commissioner Stephen “passing” taxes, fees and other costs. The last time I checked, the Legislature “passes” taxes, fees and charges, although it is true that commissioners can propose them and governors can veto pieces of legislation if they are so inclined.However, indicating that governors or commissioners “pass” laws is bad, disingenuous and inaccurate. Also, the fact is that government has to be funded somehow and the nature, fairness and reason for fees, taxes and charges is relevant to the discussion. The mere fact that they exist is not a reason to criticize a politician, no matter what the perceived ideology of the moment.On that same subject, the whole idea portrayed in many ads that taxes cannot be raised and that they are “too high already,” is sophistry. Record federal deficits and pending state problems require serious work. There are only three ways to balance a budget. Taxes can go up, spending can go down or existing revenue sources can produce more income because the economy gets better. The trick is to balance them so as to do no harm.However, the idea that a candidate can in good conscience take a position that he or she will never vote to raise taxes or will reduce taxes from present levels in order to help eliminate a budget deficit is nonsense. The candidates know it and should have the guts to say it. It is going to take hard work, bipartisan effort and flexibility to reduce spending, adjust revenue sources and spur the economy, and taking unrealistic positions during a campaign is not a helpful start for anyone who may end up in office having to make the decisions. That is a box that candidates should not put themselves in.Among other unrealistic positions candidates are taking are the blanket statements by many that they “would not have voted for the bank bailout (TARP), the automobile company bailout or other stimulus packages.”That is 20-20 hindsight with a vengeance. As U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg has pointed out repeatedly, when the president of the United States, Secretary of Commerce, head of the Federal Reserve and others come to the Congress and say that these measures are all that stands between the country and another Great Depression, philosophy sometimes goes out the window, and you use what tools you can fashion to deal with the situation.I dare say that all of the candidates who take these positions now would indeed have voted for those measures and, if they need a real debate, I would be happy to refer them to members of the United Auto Workers currently working for General Motors or Chrysler.Brad Cook is a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He also serves as secretary of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire.