Another look at House 33: Hall v. Muniz (and how not to bury a story)

Muniz v Hall
Hall v. Muniz
Democrat Luz Muniz (left) and Republican Craig Hall (right)

“Never piss off a blogger. They have a bigger ego and more time than you.” — Campaign training document, circa 2006.

This week, Utah Politico Hub and Utah Political Capitol were asked to remove a portion of a post on the Utah House 33 (Hall/Muniz) race in our HubCap Spin series, which offers amateur analysis on Utah races.

The post (which you can still read here, because the internet always wins) discussed endorsements and money in the race, specifically the endorsement of Republican Craig Hall by the AFL-CIO as well as the cash disadvantage of Democrat Liz Muniz, possibly due to a lack of union endorsements.  I didn’t entirely agree when I first read the post, but before I get to that, it’s important you know that what the handful of people (at least until now) read in the original post was 100% public information and 100% factual.  In fact, the post mentioned only one union endorsement for Craig Hall, but there were actually several.

Also, in fact, these endorsements do often mean money for a candidate. I disagreed with the original analysis only in that union endorsements aren’t always a boost for Republicans in Utah (dirty secret: unions endorse Republicans all the time… often for influence, often for an honest preference, and sometimes because someone somewhere long ago ruffled their feathers, and they, just like the all major party officers and committee members, hold petty grudges forever). A loss of a union endorsement doesn’t always dry up money for a Democrat in Utah.  In 2012, Hall’s biggest donors were party committees and the real estate lobby, not unions. But again, the blog post that folks associated with Muniz objected to was absolutely factual and pretty decent analysis.

So why was it removed?

Simply, the editors of Utah Politico Hub and Utah Political Capitol are nice people, and it wasn’t worth making trouble over.  That’s why I’m here. So, curious (this is the How Not to Bury a Story part), I did some snooping.  The same day the request to remove came, Muniz posted on her campaign’s Facebook page that an article was written “that may hurt my campaign” and that she was not going to fire her consulting firm, The Target Group.  A sincere discussion followed in the comments, including comments from personal friends of mine, whom I respect.  But campaigning can get anyone lost in the woods.

From what I gather, the issue over a blog post few saw (until now) stems from the author (who I haven’t yet spoken to about this affair) being an operative in other races (also no secret) and it being “bad form” to handicap so negatively (but accurately, I stress) another race.   Okay, maybe, sure.

But a few things on that.  First, Republicans about to gloat about Democratic campaigns squabbling: Brad Daw, Julie Dole, and have a seat.  It happens.  Second, from a former ‘operative’s’ perspective, a post highlighting your underdog status with publicly available information is a rallying opportunity not a hit piece.  Third, and most important to me, asking for the removal of a post, unless it contained factual errors or private information is, by far, bad form that exceeds anything in the post at issue or who wrote it.  Any consultant, union rep, or party officer who may have been involved or even knowledgeable of the request for removal has done nothing more than discredit themselves and create a story where there was none.  Worse, my educated guess is this was one person making a very stupid rookie mistake, and now both the author of the post and the candidate and two campaigns have been hit by it this person’s bad judgement.  Bad form, indeed.

Campaign season can be silly. Campaigns even sillier. In nearly a decade of writing about, talking about, or even — until a few years ago — working with campaigns and parties, the unfortunate side of the silliness isn’t  a loss of civility (overrated) or “distraction from the issues” (nothing gets voters paying attention like good drama). The unfortunate aspect of the silliness is that the candidates are not always the cause of the silliness, but they always pay for it. Egos of consultants, staff, unions, party officers, even family members have harmed more campaigns than the candidates themselves in my experience.  The reverse can be true, but not the norm, in my experience.

But to ask for a retraction of an opinion piece (confirmed) based on public information, or (the rumor) to threaten to hurt another campaign over it?  Pathetic and wrongheaded.

Liz Muniz seems like a great candidate.  Her campaign has been active, involved, and aggressive.  She herself is one of the most engaging speakers you’ll find in the Salt Lake area this cycle.  She lost her race against Hall in 2012 — in which he also nabbed most of the union endorsements and also out fundraised her — by less than 500 votes despite that.  That paints her as a very competitive candidate in round two.  Hall definitely seems to think so, as he’s campaigning equally as hard.  The events that lead to the removal of our post have only hurt her campaign.

Now imagine if her campaign had said that instead of taking issue with our post.

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