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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Sunday Spin: Ads give up the right to remain silent

The campaigns for and against the get-the-state-out-of-the-booze-biz initiative seem in a competition for “first responders” willing to endorse their stance.

It started with the ad by Protect Our Communities, the official name of the No on I-1183 committee, which enlisted a county sheriff, a city police chief and a pair of firefighters to denounce the proposal...

They look earnestly into the camera, sometimes with lights of emergency vehicles flashing in the background, to suggest the proposal is just a few short steps from turning Washington into a perpetual kegger for teens.

Wait a minute, you might say when first seeing the ad. Isn’t the use of government equipment banned from campaigns for or against a candidate or ballot measure?

Yes. But look closely and you’ll see that the vehicles aren’t identifiable as a particular department’s squad car or agency’s ambulance. They’re generic rentals, not actual emergency vehicles.

Public employees aren’t banned by state law from appearing in campaign ads, although there can be a question if the city or county – which is to say its taxpayers – foot the bill for their uniform and they don’t have permission from the boss. Again, look closely and you’ll see the firefighters aren’t in turnout gear. One of the lawmen, Cowlitz County Sheriff Mark Nelson, is in fairly generic brown attire except for the badge. Castle Rock Police Chief Bob Heuer is the only one who appears to be in full uniform.

Everyone in the ad had permission from their department to appear, said Alex Fryer, a spokesman for the no campaign.

The Yes on 1183 campaign has countered with its own lawmen on camera and in mailers seeking contributions. Their rapid response commercial shows a cop getting out of a squad car – again, note that the name of his jurisdiction is obscured by on-screen graphics, and his agency patch isn’t clear although his sergeant stripes are – then administering a breathalyzer to a teen.

Use logic here: Is it more likely that they caught a teen who was both stupid enough to drive drunk and to have the event recorded on film, or that these are actors?

The Yes folks’ recognizable on-camera faces are generally retirees, such as former state Attorney General Ken Eikenberry, who aren’t under any restrictions.

If the campaign goes on long enough, perhaps each side can feature ads with fake cops, like Starsky and Hutch, Ponch and Jon or Crockett and Tubbs. In the end, someone might bring in Sgt. Joe Friday to give us “just the facts.”

The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.