(UPDATED AT 3 P.M. TO REFLECT PARKS' REMARKS AT MONDAY FORUM)
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has flooded the mailboxes of Ventura County Democratic voters with another cartoonish mailer that seeks to portray independent congressional candidate Linda Parks as a tea party-style Republican extremist.
The first showed Parks' face on campaign buttons paired with George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin. The cover of this one shows an open closet with GOP paraphernalia, including a cardboard cutout of Palin and a Bush-Cheney placard, spilling out. The implication is that Parks has been trying to keep her true political leanings in the closet. The headline says, "Republican Linda Parks has a secret..."
On the flip side it says that "Washington Republicans and Linda Parks would end Medicare as we know it" and that "a vote for Parks and the national Republicans is a vote for the Tea Pary."
The allegation, to put it charitably, is a stretch. In fact, one of the comments that the DCCC cites to back up its claim is an out-of-context excerpt from a Facebook comment exchange. In that exchange, a user asks Parks whether she supports the budget proposal written by GOP Rep. Paul Ryan, a proposal that includes cuts to Medicare and a plan to offer vouchers to seniors who could choose to use them to purchase private insurance instead of government-administered Medicare insurance.
The DCCC asserts that Parks evaded the question, saying it was "moot" because the Ryan budget stands no chance of passage. But here's the full text of Parks' response: "I am concerned that the Ryan Budget, among other things, would leave vulnerable senior citizens without health care. I also think it is a moot point because the Ryan Budget is dead in the water because it is a one-sided proposal and an example of what you get when you don't have Republicans and Democrats working together."
A fair reading of that response is that Parks does not support the Ryan proposal -- unless one believes that a political candidate is publicly supporting the concept of leaving "vulnerable senior citizens without health care."
Democrats understandably want to point out to their own partisan voters that Parks is not one of them. That's true. Until becoming a candidate, Parks was a registered Republican. She was a Republican throughout the eight years of the Bush administration and during the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign. But the facts of Parks' political behavior make their argument that she is an extremist difficult. Parks has worked in concert with the Democratic majority on the Board of Supervisors, she endorsed Democrat Hannah-Beth Jackson over Republican Tony Strickland in their 2008 state Senate campaign, and she made her mark in local politics by being an outspoken advocate for open-space preservation.
Those are decidedly not traits one typically associates with a tea party-affiliated candidate.
Yesterday, Parks called on leading Democratic candidate Julia Brownley to publicly repudiate the DCCC mailers, but that's not going to happen. In an e-mail response to that request, Brownley campaign spokesman Lenny Young wrote me: "Despite her rhetoric, it has been unclear where Linda Parks stands on Medicare because she has been all over the place on the Ryan plan that aims to end it and on whether she'd support the House Republicans who are in lock step behind the plan... She's been a Republican for her entire elected career so I can understand why the voters in Ventura County can't count on her to protect Medicare."
On one hand, the Democrats' frustration over how to associate Parks with Republican policy positions is understandable, because Parks has been less than clear where she stands on a number of issues. Among those had been the question of whether lowered tax rates on wealthy individuals should be allowed to expire at the end of this year. Parks has ducked that question a number of times, but at a forum Monday came very close to saying no. She said: "In these difficult economic times it's hard to say yes I want a tax increase. And I think there are other things that we can do short of a tax increase."
She has also declined to say which party she would caucus with if elected to the House, who would get her vote for Speaker of the House, and even whether she intends to vote for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney for president. Those evasions will likely give partisan Democrats considerable pause.
But if Democrats are to continue to attack Parks (which they surely will), they would be wise to look for a different line of argument. They might, for instance, ask voters to assess whether Parks' approach to her job as Thousand Oaks councilwoman and as a supervisor has demonstrated the kind of temperament and cooperative spirit that would enable her to carry out her promise to "work toward middle ground with both political parties" once in Congress.
Meanwhile, the Parks campaign got a considerable boost today when the Los Angeles Times, in a lengthy editorial, endorsed Parks.
It's not surprising that the Times editorial board would take such a stance -- newspaper editorial boards, after all, always seem to be looking for opportunities to take positions that declare a pox on the houses of both Democrats and Republicans. Still, this particular endorsement was effusive. Here's an excerpt:
"If Parks were unqualified for the job, the novelty of having a nonaligned candidate would wear thin very quickly. But she is in fact very qualified."
With that, perhaps the Democrats' challenge of undermining an independent whose presence in the primary could cost them a spot on the general election ballot just got a little more challenging.