Kathryn Jones

Managing Editor

Well, talk about ironic.

The week before the Nov. 2 election, I wrote an opinion piece about how refreshing it was to cover an election with no mud slinging. In that same issue the Reporter ran a full-page ad paid for by the Somervell County Democratic Party. It compared county judge candidates Dwayne Griffin and Mike Ford, who was running as a Republican and whose record was questioned in the ad.

That goes to show that we do, indeed, keep editorial content and advertising separate at this newspaper. Linda Rowe handled the ad when it was placed. I never saw it until I picked up the newspaper the next morning. Then I said something along the lines of “Oh, poo,” only more colorful.

The edge of the ad carried the names of Democratic candidates for Congress, governor, county judge, county commissioners and justices of the peace. A box in the middle of the page listed Griffin's qualifications. Then it ran a "comparison" with Ford and his voting record, especially on funding Glen Rose Medical Center, which operates on county funding.

"Do you want another song sang to you or do you want to stop the 'good ol' boy' system, as we have it now?" the ad asked.

At the bottom of the box was another comparison of commissioner candidate Pete Moore and incumbent Republican James Barnard. It contained a remark about Barnard's voting record on the hospital.

We got calls and questions all day about who placed the ad. Unfortunately, when the ad was being prepared, a paragraph about the Texas Democratic Party platform was added at the end and the line about who paid for the ad got dropped.

Many who viewed the ad told us they considered it negative. Others, though, said that they didn't view a comparison ad as "mud slinging."

But Griffin, who said he had not seen the ad's content beforehand, was very upset. Ford said he was very disappointed. The candidates had praised each other for running clean, positive campaigns and were visibly dismayed over the ad.

A rumor began spreading that Democratic commissioner candidate Paul Harper had written the ad. He didn't. In fact, he called from out-of-state where he was working to tell Linda that he did not want any comparison between himself and opponent John Curtis in the ad. The ad did not include one.

Neither Griffin nor Ford said they knew for sure if the ad helped or hurt their candidacies. "I think it probably had some effect," Griffin said and he didn't mean a positive one. Ford won the election by only 27 votes.

The outcome was doubly ironic because the candidates for county judge did not identify themselves in heavily partisan terms. Not to take anything away from Ford's victory, but partisanship certainly played a role.

Many political observers felt the outcome had more to do with the high numbers of Republicans voting a straight party ticket than with a backlash against the ad (see our election analysis story on page A1 for more on this). The only Democratic candidates who won locally were those running in uncontested races.

Marty McPherson, Somervell Democratic Party chairman, said the ad "might have stirred up" some people and got them to go to the polls. He said he heard about a 50-50 split of comments from people who liked the ad and those who didn't.

If the county judge's election were held today, without the national and state races on the ballot, McPherson predicted the outcome might be different. He also noted that looking at Griffin's lead in the primary and the number of undervotes in the county judge's race, Griffin should have received 55 to 60 percent of the vote instead of less than 50 percent.

But that didn't happen.

The Somervell County Democratic Party's ad certainly paled in comparison to some of the attack ads that ran in other publications around the state and the nation. But the controversy over the ad indicated that in Glen Rose and Somervell County, at least, even the hint of "going negative" is going to generate some heated reactions — and not necessarily produce positive results.