It would be easy to get confused by the minor scandal involving Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller’s office and conclude that it’s all about a young staffer who screwed up, then compounded his error by lying.
That did happen, but it’s not the point.
As you know if you follow local politics, Timothy DesJarlais finally acknowledged over the weekend that he had created a news website called the Arizona Daily Herald. One of his first acts after anonymously creating the website, he now acknowledges, was to use a pseudonym to ask other supervisor candidates about Miller’s road-repair plan, announced May 14.
That amounted to trickery — a county supervisor’s employee posing as a journalist, pressing her rivals for their views on her plan. The obvious question was whether Miller had put DesJarlais up to it. The answer, so far, is we don’t know.
But we can still come to some conclusions because of the way the story unfolded after the Tucson Sentinel, Tucson Weekly and I separately broke the news May 19.
Miller chose to treat the story as a trumped-up attack on her by a local news media that despises her. Rather than suspending judgment and seeking clarification, she chose to believe her young staffer’s outlandish explanation and claim the stories were part of a conspiracy against her.
That was bad judgment — her bad judgment.
She compounded the bad judgment by reporting the incident to the FBI and encouraging DesJarlais to do so as well, something that puts him in jeopardy of a criminal charge for false reporting. It was never clear what she thought the crime was — she claimed that somebody else had assumed DesJarlais’ online pseudonym, Jim Falken, in an effort to smear her by creating this minor scandal.
That made no sense then or now. But when you are an elected official with a persecution complex, you can apparently convince yourself — and your avid supporters — of about anything.
Miller went further. When DesJarlais, in a panic, spit out the name “John Dalton” as the person whom he believed was responsible for the Arizona Daily Herald conspiracy, Miller again swallowed the lie whole.
She posted an oblique accusation on the Facebook page of a local Republican activist named John Dalton: “Yes I have reported this to the FBI cybercrimes Unit. We have the name of the individual who did this and HE will be brought to justice. I reported the individual by NAME.” She added, “Nice try!”
Miller wasn’t the only one who used bad judgment in this situation, though. Her band of supporters in the local alternative media — in Tucson, that means a handful of conservative outlets — bought her version whole.
Chris DeSimone and Joe Higgins of KVOI 1030-AM, James T. Harris of KQTH 104.1 FM, and Lori Hunnicutt, who runs the Arizona Daily Independent blog, all enabled Miller by supporting her bad judgment. A true friend and supporter of Miller, in this situation, would have tried to persuade her to take a colder, more rational look at the facts.
But they didn’t. Check out this bizarre sentence by Hunnicutt, discussing DesJarlais after his confession: “While his actions may lead to an indictment, those who should be indicted by the public are the ‘journalists,’ who used their barrels of ink to drown a 19 year old and ignore the powers-that-be.”
The key question with this affair never was whether DesJarlais did something wrong, though he has opened himself to scrutiny by filing to run for Marana school board. It was always Miller’s behavior. We won’t know until we go through public records whether Miller had anything to do with the original creation of the Arizona Daily Herald. I suspect she did not.
But we do know she and her supporters exercised bad judgment by instinctively believing DesJarlais, reporting the incident as a crime, believing in an anti-Miller conspiracy and lashing out at those who questioned him. They were wrong.
DesJarlais can be forgiven for making a 19-year-old’s mistakes — and I hope nobody pursues legal action against him. He has resigned and apologized sincerely to Miller and Dalton. Miller? Before Dalton left town Thursday, he had heard nothing from this grown-up elected official who accused him publicly of wrongdoing.
On Thursday, Sen. John McCain repeatedly accused President Obama of being “directly responsible” for Sunday’s massacre at a nightclub in Orlando.
It was an extreme accusation because it suggested, through the use of the word “directly,” that Obama was somehow involved in the attack. In the age of Donald Trump, that implication is not so surprising, but it’s still beyond the bounds of traditional political discussion.
Maybe more interesting is what he meant. McCain explained later that Obama’s policies have led to the rise of the Islamic State group, which inspired the killer Sunday.
It’s a defensible argument, for sure. But in making it, McCain does something many of us do, but still should avoid: Prematurely concluding what the killer’s motivation was.
From the reporting that’s happened so far, it appears not only that the Islamic State was a likely factor, but so was the killer’s failed attempt at a police career, hatred of gays, mental instability, easy access to firearms, and, most provocatively, his own possible repressed homosexuality. It seems we tend to pick the explanation that bolsters our own political perspective.
Sad to see McCain do that too, but not surprising in an election year.
But we repeat ourselves
Democrats Tom Chabin and Bill Mundell are mounting what could be a strong challenge to the Republicans on the Arizona Corporation Commission.
The revelation last week that the FBI is questioning people about the 2014 commission election bolsters their argument that change is needed. What doesn’t bolster their argument? Their answers to a candidate questionnaire from the Arizona Investment Council, a group of utility investors who support infrastructure spending.
Unlike the Republican candidates, the two Democrats answered identically to almost every question. For example, this was Question 4: “Are you in favor of competition in retail electricity markets in Arizona? Why or why not?”
Both Chabin and Mundell answered: “I would listen fairly and objectively to the arguments presented by the parties. My decision will be based on the facts and evidence presented.”
I get running as a slate, but that doesn’t mean you’re twins.