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Lucky you live Hawaii where negativity is mild

By Richard Borreca

LAST UPDATED: 12:55 a.m. HST, Sep 20, 2010

It may not be the specific quality you would attribute to this sort of person, but here is what a political consultant with decades of success in Honolulu told me:

"We lost our virginity this year."

The missing innocence involves our elections and how this year, Hawaii campaigns are registering with the negative.

It was Alice Roosevelt Longfellow who famously said, "If you can't say something good about someone, come sit next to me."

Sidling up to voters and saying something nasty about the competition has been a standard tactic for decades, but after two events this year, it appears to have a new resonance in Hawaii politics.

First, in the summer special election for the 1st Congressional District a mainland Republican special interest group slammed former U.S. Rep. Ed Case, and the Democrat went from leading the polls to coming in third in the actual race.

The negative ads need not be totally factual, just enough statistics ginned up to allow an announcer with a "voice of God" delivery to announce an alarming malfeasance.

Not everyone realizes that in a political ad, politicians can say whatever they want. It does not have to be true.

In 1972 the Federal Communications Commission forced Atlanta TV stations to accept a political ad from an avowed racist who said he was against blacks because they "want our white women."

The Supreme Court had already ruled that the First Amendment right of free speech trumps repellent behavior.

Here in Hawaii, our negative ads are models of decorum compared to mainland attack ads, says U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye. But even Inouye said he was concerned about the Mufi Hannemann brochure attack on Neil Abercrombie. That ad asked voters to compare the two candidates, including their wives and where they were born.

"Let's keep it clean," advised Inouye.

That "Compare and Decide" brochure sent to all registered Democratic voters in the state has become the defining moment in the campaign, according to those involved in both the Hannemann and Abercrombie campaign.

It was telling that Hannemann opened his first televised debate with a semi-apology for the piece and that in the second debate Abercrombie was still hammering Hannemann about it.

Abercrombie was able to perform a perfect political jujitsu move by extracting every comparison in the brochure and using it against Hannemann.

Of course, Hannemann opened himself up for it by saying things like the 20-year congressional leader "hasn't held a private sector job in 40 years."

If Hawaii voters are being bombarded with negative ads this year, the only thing positive is that other places have it worse.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Due to late-night results of Saturday's primary election, his next column will run Monday. He can be reached at rborreca@staradvertiser.com.

 CORRECTION: A quote in an earlier "On Politics" column incorrectly attributed the quote, "If you can't say something good about someone, come sit next to me." It was said by Alice Roosevelt Longworth.

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