If you've been paying attention, you've heard: Nearly all our national political candidates are scumbags.
Negative campaign ads have long been a staple in the Washington arena. And like most useful innovations, political finger-pointing has gone from being a luxury item for the privileged to a staple for the rest of us.
So, move over Barack Obama and John McCain, and clear the mud pit for Catherine "Kit" Roupe, Republican candidate for Colorado House District 17. That's right, Roupe otherwise known as a mild-mannered grandmother with a heart for public service has taken the gloves off. All the way off.
She recently sent out a mailer to thousands of voters accusing her Democratic opponent, Dennis Apuan, of being a "violent, anti-war, anti-military protester." The ad went on to state that as a past director of the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission, Apuan was "responsible for organizing violent protests at home or as far away as New York City," and that he participated in "public protests at family events," and "spends free time protesting political party conventions and family parades."
Asked about the ad, Roupe, whose campaign released the flier, claims it's all true.
"People need to know a comparison between the candidates," she says. "Everything on there is on his Web site."
Wrong. No such description of Apuan exists at dennisapuan.com. It also should come as no surprise that Apuan is outraged by the "totally false" remarks.
Unsavory though they may be, attack ads work, says Josh Dunn, assistant professor of political science at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Negative ads, he says, usually are exaggerated and heavily shaded, and have a tendency to decrease turnout for the attacked candidate. Only occasionally do they blow up in the attacker's face.
"Maybe there's some special reward for people who don't campaign negatively, but it's not higher office," Dunn says. "When somebody hits you, you've got to hit back hard in politics."
Apuan, however, says he has no plan to go dirty. It's not his style.
"We want debate and discussion based on issues, not on character assassination and dirty tricks," Apuan says.
For the record, Apuan says he's definitely not "violent" or "anti-military" assertions seemingly supported by facts. (A Colorado Bureau of Investigation search reveals no Colorado arrest record for Apuan, and he has openly supported programs to help returning veterans.) Apuan is opposed to the war, and he says the Roupe ad distorts two experiences related to that stance: He carried a banner opposing the war outside the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, and he marched with peace supporters here in the 2007 St. Patrick's Day Parade.
That parade, as many remember, was interrupted when Colorado Springs police removed peace marchers from the street. Some marchers were injured by police, but no marchers were accused of any violent acts. Apuan followed police instructions and was not touched, let alone arrested, by officers.
Apuan points out he has long been interested in nonviolence. He serves on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday committee, and once went to India for a month to study Gandhi's teachings. Jeff Briggs, current director of the Justice and Peace Commission, describes Apuan as "always a gentleman."
"Never did I see him as violent," Briggs says. "Ever."