In The Arena

In the Arena: Teachable moments

I ’ve always said that elections have consequences, but they can also be learning experiences, providing teachable moments both for the candid ates who ran and the people who came out to vote for them.

Here are a few from this past week’s election.

Going negative

Congressman Ed Markey will now move over to the Senate, courtesy of a 10-point blowout of Republican Gabriel Gomez — a race won despite what I believe was one of the most putrid and misleading television ad campaigns this state has ever seen.

Using short, out-of-context sound bites from the primary, Markey positioned Gomez as a pro-life troglodyte bent on gutting Social Security and Medicare, and ensuring that automatic weapons remain in the hands of anyone who wants them.

None of those, mind you, bore any semblance to Gomez’s actual positions on the issues, but that didn’t to matter to Markey and the Democrats who hammered the guy from the jump and, in the process, proved just how far the “party of inclusion” is willing to go to destroy anyone they feel threatens their entitled right to occupy the top offices in this commonwealth.

Facebook in play

National and statewide candidates have already figured this out, but this year may have marked the first time a local election took a 180-degree turn because of the Internet.

The 2013 Greenfield School Committee race wasn’t supposed to be one at all. It was going to be an elected coronation, with Wesley Blixt and Margaret Betts waltzing into office unopposed.

Enter Facebook, and the candidacy of soon-to-be retired Greenfield School Principal Donna Gleason, who used the site to announce and promote her last-minute write-in bid. This prompted Blixt to go on the page under the handle “Wesley Arnold” and blast Gleason’s candidacy, going so far as to call her a “toadie” loyal to Greenfield School Superintendent Susan Hollins.

Blixt did his best to apologize, but the damage was done. The Recorder picked up on the story and suddenly a momentary lapse in judgment became a top-of-the fold political bombshell. In the meantime, Gleason continued to spread a largely positive message through regular Facebook posts that were then shared with other Facebook friends by a number of prominent, politically connected Greenfield residents — creating a virtual message sharing operation that proved much more effective than any lawn signs or political ads would have been.

Blixt also set up a Facebook page, but didn’t seem to be nearly as active as Gleason’s and the end result was one of the more improbable write-in wins in recent Greenfield political history — and one that might never have occurred had Blixt not pressed that fateful “post” button.

Be for something

This is not a new concept but it bears repeating, because I believe it was another reason why Blixt finished third in a “can’t-miss” race.

There aren’t that many opportunities in an unopposed race for candidates to talk to voters, but it seemed like every time Blixt made a public comment, it had a negative connotation. His GCTV testimonial talked a lot about the supposed “low morale” in the Greenfield system, but offered no solutions to improve it. And his “My Turn” column comparing K-12 Inc to Monsanto may have been a dog whistle to some progressives, but it did little to convince middle-of-the-road voters that Blixt was anything other than a rabid ideologue looking to tear up the system.

I think Jeanne Golrick ran into a similar problem in the Montague selectmen’s race. I moderated the lone televised debate between Golrick and Michael Nelson, and I came away with the impression that, although Golrick may have been interested in serving, she didn’t appear to have a very positive attitude about government or the town in general. That became even more apparent when compared to Nelson, the patron saint of the Pumpkinfest, and a number of other recent Montague community-building efforts.

I’m not saying every politician needs to be Pollyanna to win, but you have to do more than just “rage against the machine” if you want get people to come out and vote for you.

Some life left

The outcome of the school race seemed to indicate that apathy hasn’t completely consumed Greenfield quite yet. Despite a seismic ideological shift that has gone largely unaddressed by the town’s supposed “silent majority,” it appears there are still a few natives left in this burg who are willing to mobilize — if they feel the cause is worth it.

I don’t know if that momentum will carry over int o future campaigns, but there seems to still be a spark there that may just be enough to build on for 2014.

Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.

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