Oct 20 2005
Hardly ever hurts a politician to run against the local newspaper, especially when it comes to self-promotion. Tim Eyman learned that ages ago in Washington, and – we’d be surprised if it weren’t true – alongside some pleasure in broad-based media support of his new government audits initiative (and we here like it too) seems to be some low-level unease about having been accepted (temporarily) into the club that always rejected him.
A different variation of the theme comes in Boise, where the improbable city council candidacy of Brandi Swindell, against council incumbent Maryanne Jordan, has picked up some new juice in the wake of criticism from Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey. She, or whoever is advising her, has taken neat advantage of a column which nailed some substantial criticisms and pointed in the general direction of several others. The most significant: Unprecedented specific alliance between the Idaho Republican Party and several very conservative religious groups.
Campaign season mostly has been quiet in Boise, with just six candidates for three council seats, one of the lightest rosters recently. On the surface, campaign activity seems light as well; on a run around the city scouting for yard signs, we found exactly one, for council challenger Jim Tibbs. (We’re told there are more, mainly for Tibbs, elsewhere too, but the number clearly is smaller than normal.) And yet there are subtle signs of considerable organizational activity out there, some for Tibbs but apparently even more for Swindell. Mostly it’s been a quiet campaign, usually a political contradiction.
Unless it’s a stealth campaign, which would make sense. The strategy apparent behind the Swindell candidacy seems to be a difficult and subtle one, to get her known and make her a viable community figure while pointing energetically away from relevant information about who and what this prospective leader is, and who her constituency is.
The earliest public mention of Swindell’s candidacy – though not yet by name – we can find came on September 26 in this statement: “A conservative candidate, who supports the values of the Keep the Commandments Coalition, will file on Thursday to challenge Maryanne Jordan for her seat on the Boise City Council. We’ll release the candidate’s name in an email update to you on Thursday afternoon.” That candidate was Swindell, co-director of the Coalition with the man who posted the announcement, the Reverend Bryan Fischer. This organization, and maybe allied groups, is the specific source of the candidacy.
That would hardly make it unusual among interest groups, and its action in putting forth a candidacy of its own is not wrong or unethical. But its lack of success in ousting Mayor David Bieter last year suggests it is not a political winner in Boise. Swindell, in other words, needed to be promoted as something other than the only thing she ever had been publicly in Boise: An advocate for locating a Ten Commandments monument in a park.
Getting away from that while still running a winning campaign, however, is an iffy proposition. After her announcement, Fischer wrote, “Brandi’s position, of course, on defending the Judeo-Christian tradition and its role in public life is clear. The one thing you will be able to count on with Brandi is that her positions will be clear, be values- and principles- based, and that she will stand unapologetically for what she believes is best and right for the city of Boise.”
The issues page on her web site covers seven separate subjects, from the city library ballot issue to police patrols, but the only issue statement of the bunch that doesn’t sound generic, and the only one that takes any issue with incumbent Jordan, has to do with the Ten Commandments. And none of the other issues on the page have much of anything to do specifically with the “Judeo-Christian tradition”, nor is that phrase or anything like it present – and even the Commandments issue is presented as concern over council attitude toward the public rather than as a cultural or religious issue. To read her web site, you’d never guess than her entre and sole involvement in public matters had to do with a very conservative religious drive and organization.
You’d never guess much else about her, either.
She mentions her enjoyment of outdoor recreation and her membership in Vineyard Christian Fellowship, and her – considerable – number of appearance on national television. But it says nothing about whatever education she has had; high school and college if any went unremarked. It says nothing about any sortof civic involvement outside the religious sphere, even a neighborhood volunteer effort. If she has a clearly-defined profession or occupation, she doesn’t mention it either – with one possibly peripheral exception. She refers to what sounds like, and may be, a job position as “national director” with a group called Generation Life. It seems an odd connection. Generation Life describes itself as “a youth movement of students, activists, teachers, professionals, and artists committed to ending the horror of abortion, proclaiming the message of sexual purity to their peers, and ushering in Biblical revolution to the next generation. Its source, fuel and fire is the same as that of all creation – the one and only Triune God … God is calling Generation Life to confront pop culture, the media, public institutions, elected officials, and the entire ‘culture of death’ with the pro-life and chastity message.” That matches with the Ten Commandments all right, but where are the Brandi candidate messages on these topics? One other problem: The group’s web site lists four staff people in its Philadelphia staff, but no Brandi, and none in Idaho.
She is quoted in a number of the group’s news released expressing various opinions, however. There was this, for example, after the death of Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist: “As a member of the post Roe generation, I know what it is like to be open prey in my mother’s womb.” That presumably suggests her memory at least must be extraordinary. And a short biography at a site for the book “Don’t Miss Your Boat” says this: “Brandi Swindell is considered one the foremost leaders in the pro-life movement today as the co-founder and National Director of Generation Life. An active twenty-seven-year-old, she leads and organizes many pro-life projects across the nation, including successful demonstrations at the Salt Lake Olympics and the White House.” And this: “Brandi’s goal is to represent the ‘new face’ of pro-life America.” Not much about land use and police patrols or Idaho there, much to the surprise of people who wander on to her campaign web site.
The Popkey column was mainly not about any of this. Its central focus was another peculiarity, that of the state Republican Party breaking with long-standing practice and giving active, physical support to a candidate for a non-partisan position. Of course, Republicans and Democrats both have long been involved individually in races for offices for cities and courts, but the party structures themselves have stayed apart, a cry far from the state office help being provided by state Republican Chair Kirk Sullivan. It might make more sense if Swindell had a deep record of involvement and activism as a Republican, but she’s never been a candidate for office before, and never been a player in Idaho Republican politics (though presumably that’s changing now). Popkey’s comment: “I’m baffled Sullivan picked Swindell for this leap into non-partisan elections. Jim Tibbs might make sense, but not an extremist who opposes condom use and has zero experience with the collaborative skills it takes to make a city work.”
Popkey went on: “Image is everything. Good looks got her TV time on O’Reilly; she made headlines protesting condom handouts at the Salt Lake Olympics; her rap sheet includes protests over abortion, the Ten Commandments and stem-cell research.” He also made some comments about the glamour-style photos on her web site (and yes, that is an accurate description of the style, as you can tell if you follow the link). Those lines triggered the criticism, as delighted conservatives piled on about Popkey’s sexism. That, of a sudden, has become the campaign issue in the Boise campaign: Vote for Brandi so you can sock it to the Statesman. It was terrific political jujitsu.
Doesn’t invalidate Popkey’s point, though. Image does go a long way in our modern culture, and that is why increasingly pretty faces are front news programs and public-visibility campaigns. If deep experience and involvement in these kind of social issues (in Boise at least) were the criteria for television interviews, Fischer would have been giving them.
But that would have given the game away. Can’t have that, at least not until Swindell is safely ensconced on the council – and the Idaho Republican Party is tightly tagged with whatever she says and does. And who will be the long-term gainers out of that?
UPDATE: The Idaho Republican Party said last week that it is ending its formal involvement with the Swindell campaign.Share on Facebook