Politics has always been a dirty business. It used to be more fun, though.
Once while making a campaign speech, President William Howard Taft faced hecklers who were more aggressive than usual. One threw a cabbage at Taft.
He paused as the vegetable landed at his feet. Then Taft said, “One of my opponents has apparently lost his head.”
It’s unclear whether Taft was that witty under pressure, or if he staged the confrontation so he could deliver a rehearsed line.
Maybe it was hardball, or maybe a hard vegetable was used as a prop. Either way, Taft fought his adversaries with a sense of humor.
Many of today’s politicians, such as state Rep. Gregg Schmedes, prefer wild rants.
I recently wrote a column criticizing Schmedes, R-Tijeras, for his statement implying that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the five-member state Supreme Court had conspired on a case.
“Bad news: New Mexico Supreme Court just overturned the restraining order issued against the governor,” Schmedes wrote on Twitter. “Must be nice to be able to pick up the phone and influence the judicial process. Corruption?”
Schmedes had no evidence of Lujan Grisham phoning Supreme Court justices and somehow getting them to do her bidding. He knew nothing about any corruption.
The truth had more to do with emotion than reason. Schmedes didn’t like a judicial ruling, so he whined about it.
But he failed to consider that his mention of corruption also was an attack on the Supreme Court justices, including Republican Judith Nakamura.
Perhaps Schmedes, a candidate for the state Senate in District 19, hoped to rile up his supporters for the fall campaign. If so, he succeeded.
I’ve heard from a few of Schmedes’ fans. They said his tactics were justified.
One was Stephan Helgesen, a retired U.S. diplomat who was director of the state Office of Science and Technology under Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson.
“I see that you got your Democrat hatchet sharpened,” Helgesen wrote in an email. “You managed to get a couple good chops in on Rep. Gregg Schmedes who is merely playing the Democrats’ game. Kudos to him for not pulling any punches. It’s time they got a dose of their own medicine, and you deserve a little yourself. Stop using negative words like ‘cohorts’ to describe Republicans unless of course you use it to describe the Dems as well.”
Schmedes didn’t have a shred of proof that the governor and Supreme Court justices were corrupt. But Helgesen praised Schmedes for candor.
Helgesen had an explanation for excusing Schmedes’ unsupported allegation.
“Anyone who’s lived in New Mexico for any length of time knows there is a long history of ‘coziness’ between high levels of government, certainly among those in the Democratic Party,” Helgesen said. “We are the most corrupt state in the union, bar none. Schmedes made no outright allegation. Granted, he could have chosen another way to frame it, but he just did what all of the Democrats do, time and time again.
“We Conservatives are getting pretty fed up with the sanctimonious ‘do as I say, not do as I do’ Left in this state. None of us like corruption, but it’s high time to question the motives of some of our leaders. Wouldn’t you agree?”
All public officials are subject to questioning, and Schmedes has jumped to the top of the list.
His claim that the executive and judicial branches might have colluded on a case has caused scrutiny he’d rather avoid.
If Schmedes has good reason for suspecting a fix in a Supreme Court decision, he should let the public in on his secret. I’ve invited him to do so, but he hasn’t responded.
Schmedes’ motive for smearing Lujan Grisham was self-serving and against the public good. He wanted to pit people who are suffering against a governor who’s in the rival party.
By doing this, Schmedes hoped voters would see him as a man of the people while viewing Lujan Grisham as someone insensitive to their problems during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Helgesen softened his stand a little.
“I don’t excuse Gregg’s ‘tweet,’ ” Helgesen wrote in a follow-up email. “I am simply pointing out that the ideology shared by the executive branch and the judiciary not to mention the legislature (majority) means that it’s not even necessary to exchange phone calls. It’s because everybody’s on the same page. I spent 20 years working in the federal government both here in the U.S. and overseas as well as four years working for a Democratic power broker (Richardson) and I can tell you that there is such a thing as a ‘deep state.’ ”
Conspiracy theories are exotic. But it’s always better to show than tell.
A crowd saw someone throw that cabbage at Taft.
Schmedes has yet to show us any evidence of the governor calling the Supreme Court to prevent justice for all.