The Line Between Scandal and Silly

April 2007
In politics there is a fine line sometimes between scandal and silly. Colorado Republicans haven't yet figured that out. Last week's legislative session went into the weekend on the heels of a mini scandal, when Democratic Rep. Mike Merrifield resigned his position as chairman of the House Education Committee after an e-mail came to light in which he angrily denounced charter schools. The negative publicity for Democrats was good for Republicans, who have been toiling under the burden of being the minority party - with Democrats in control of both the legislature and the governor's office - for the first time in decades. Perhaps smelling blood, Republicans then pushed the issue further in hopes of creating further scandal. What they've done, instead, is made the whole thing seem silly. Jon Caldara, radio host and head of the conservative Independence Institute, began the silliness with comments on his KOA radio show, as Media Matters explains:
During the March 29 broadcast of his show, Newsradio 850 KOA host and Independence Institute president Jon Caldara claimed that an email in which state Rep. Mike Merrifield (D-Manitou Springs) disparaged supporters of charter schools as deserving "a special place in hell" was "more embarrassing" than the sexually explicit electronic communications that former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) sent to underage congressional pages. "The difference is Mark Foley wanted to screw young boys. These people want to screw our children," Caldara said of Merrifield and other legislators who hold similar positions on education issues.
I really don't need to comment very much on that, because it's just plain stupid. An e-mail about charter schools is not more embarrassing than an e-mail about sexually harassing male teenage boys. Sorry. Then today, Republican Sen. Ted Harvey is quoted as calling on Democratic Sen. Sue Windels - who received the Merrifield e-mail - to step down from her position as chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee. As the Rocky Mountain News writes:
Critics say the e-mail shows the two have conspired to gut charter schools, but Windels and the Senate majority leader said she has no reason to resign. "What for?" Windels said. Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, said Windels "has definitely shown her stripes." "I think the e-mail shows there is no denying the chairman of education committee in both the House and the Senate wanted to deny children the opportunity to become everything God has destined them to be," he said. Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon, D-Denver, said talk of punishing an e-mail recipient is ridiculous. "You can't punish someone for something they didn't do," he said. "It shows some lack of clear thinking . . . and it shows a lack of a sense of justice."
In other words, Republicans think that Windels should resign because of something that Merrifield did. Not only does that not make any sense, it reeks of political desperation on the part of Republicans. Merrifield burned himself with the e-mail he sent, and his resignation from the committee and the subsequent bad publicity was probably deserved. But rather than let Democrats wallow in their own mini scandal, Republicans have tried to turn it into something even bigger...and it's not working. The public understands political posturing, and when you keep pushing - like Caldara and Harvey are doing - then it appears as though it's just another Republican vs. Democrat squabble that the average guy doesn't care about. Democrats were hanging from the rope over this, and Republicans went running around with a stepladder to put under their feet.