Julia, Eric, Andy and the Star...a study in blue

Dateline: Thu 21 Sep 2006

Last Saturday, Andy Jacobs Jr. -- among the most honorable men I know and an outstanding wit -- returned a phone call that I had made to him the week before. Gentleman that he is, he returned the call twice.

So on Saturday, Sept. 16, we finally connected and talked, covering a range of topics, including the Julia Carson-Eric Dickerson race, Julia's health, all that stuff.

Andy, of course, is Julia's mentor, and a finer political friend and ally one could not have. She worked for him for many years before she was elected to the U.S. Congressinal seat he formerly held.

Since we'd been talking newspapers, Andy said -- in his usual mild manner -- that in his view the Star had "not been exactly fair" to his protege in recent reporting on the 7th district race. (Remember, this was last Saturday, before all hell broke loose).

He cited a news story by political reporter Mary Beth Schneider -- normally a fair and accurate reporter, Andy said. But this particular story, he, and no doubt other Democrats, felt was slanted towards Dickerson.

His point?

"Julia is predicted to win," Andy said Saturday -- but Schneider's earlier story made no mention of polls that showed her victory margin. Andy also mentioned that a letter was sent to the editor noting this, but the letter was never published. (He was not the author).

His perspective as a Dem and as a longstanding friend of Carson -- that she might have been getting the short stick in the state's No. 1 newspaper -- reverberated in my head as this week's big political news boiled over: on Monday, Julia Carson attended a Star editorial board meeting and outed Dickerson as an alleged wife-beater. "He presents himself as Mr. Righteous, Mr. Righteous, but he beat his wife up to a pulp," she said, in what we now know to be a considerable overstatement.

Everybody also knows the fallout, of course: both Dickerson and his wife, from whom he is separated, have denied that she was an abuse victim. The Star reported today that she in fact wrote a letter to the prosecutor 8 days after police came to the Dickersons' home in 1991. In that letter, she stated her firm conviction that the police report was filled with "assumptions" and that she was not a battered woman, etc. The letter was released by the prosecutor's office Wednesday and printed in the Star today.

The charges against Dickerson were dismissed after his wife and daughter refused to testify against him.

Still, the Star's editorial today questioning Dickerson's credibility as a candidate shows the lob fired by Carson Monday was a direct hit. Damage done. And all of Dickerson's spin on Abdul, etc., and the rallying blogs probably won't change that.

One conclusion: the Dems, correctly or not, see or saw Dickerson as a real threat and spared nothing to cook his goose.

No doubt, to the Carson camp mindset, this is tit for tat for the GOP's voter ID law and Dickerson's criticism of Carson's Center Township allies for putting a bar in a public, federal building. In today's world, politics is nothing much more than one "gotcha" after another.

No, I am not implying that Jacobs -- Andrew the pure -- had any hand whatsoever in Carson's offensive. I do not think that for a moment. In fact, I asked him Saturday his opinion of Dickerson. "As far as I know, he's a good man. Well, of course he's a good man, he's a Marine," said Andy, the Marine brother.

But still, Andy's observations about news coverage indicated that many Dems were not happy with the hand they felt was being dealt their woman in Congress.

Andy also pointed out during our chat that in the past, Julia Carson twice was elected "woman of the year" by readers of the Star. This is when she ran the Center Township trustee's office and did a great deal of housecleaning and welfare reform.

As for her health, Andy assured me: her heart is fine. She had an auto accident a while back, he pointed out, and that is what has affected her the most.

So back to the Carson-Dickerson meltdown.

Carson, whom I happen to like personally, sank about as low as a candidate can when she brought up Dickerson's 1991 arrest. But her strategy was very effective.

Dickerson is exposed as a man with a past, and that will no doubt stick in voters' minds. He probably should have disclosed this chapter in his marital history and put it in the context of a life experience. Maybe it would have hurt him initially, but it could not have been worse than this sneak attack. My guess is that he'd filed what happened away as an unfortunate non-incident, a private matter. So much for political innocence.

What is sad is that this cloud effectively obscures the real reason for why there is such a consistently vigorous challenge to Rep. Julia Carson -- that's her lackluster and irregular voting record which last year spurred legitimate questions about her health and her ability to serve.

I agree with Gary Welsh at Advance Indiana on a critical point -- the Star has not done a good job of keeping track of Julia in office. (Altho the Star reported on her voting record and health last year, it did so only after tipsters pulled its chain). But then to hear the Dems' perspective, Carson wasn't getting credit due in the Star for running her usual strong race. That's politics.

Whatever the outcome of the race, there will be no winner here. As for losers, that would be the voters, who have yet to hear a debate between two candidates on the issues that confront Indiana and the nation.

That, it seems to me, is more significant than any other charges.

comment? ruth@ruthholladay.com

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