It took nearly a week, but finally one of the losers in Ventura County's two most contested partisan races took a stab at being gracious on Monday. Republican Bob Pohl, who lost by about 7,000 votes to Democrat Pedro Nava in the 35th District issued a formal statement last Wednesday evening that sounded like, but wasn't quite, a concession statement. He lauded his campaign staff and his supporters, but made no mention of Nava.
On Monday, however, he issued another statement with this brief acknowledgement: "I congratulate Pedro Nava on his election to the State Assembly. I wish him the best of luck."
Not effusive, perhaps, but a considerable step up from Democrat Ferial Masry's reaction in the 37th District after losing to Republican Audra Strickland. Masry said Strickland "didn't deserve what she got" and vowed to run against her again in two years.
Both losing candidates were personally offended by campaign activities of their opponents. Pohl took offense to a Nava commercial that challenged his record as a member of the Santa Barbara School Board and Masry was enraged over a recorded phone call that talked about her alleged support for a law to provide driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. The phone call noted security concerns over issuing such licenses and mentioned the word "terrorism."
Masry, who was born in Saudi Arabia, assailed the phone calls as an ethnic smear on Arab-Americans. Pohl believed the TV ads distorted his record.
Neither the TV commercial nor the phone call were examples of enlighted public discourse. But given the loose ground rules for conducting partisan campaigns these days, both were certainly within the bounds of partisan warfare.
Masry's reaction is understandable, and a case can be made that the calls used code language to call attention to her ethnic origins. But while Strickland's phone calls were dark and threatening, it is true that the 9/11 Commission recommended that states develop uniform rules for issuing driver's licenses.
The pique is particularly difficult to understand in Pohl's case: If a candidate can't make his opponent's record as an elected official part of the campaign debate, what else is there to talk about? Pohl could certainly challenge the criticism, but how can he legitimately be offended by it?
As they say, politics ain't beanbag.
Somehow John Kerry, who was subjected to far worse, found the resolve to be civil and gracious in defeat. Other defeated candidates should take note of his example.