Is it beyond the bounds of respectable political discourse to compare a candidate’s roots in his community to the roots of a new arrival running for the same office?
A letter to the editor complains about the campaign tactic of touting that a candidate is a “lifelong Monroe County resident,” meaning that we should not support “outsiders” – specifically people who came here because of Indiana University. The author complains “it was a distasteful tactic then and it’s distasteful now.”
But is it really distasteful?
“Carpetbagger” has long been a term of derision, describing someone who moves to a different area in order to be elected to an office. Hillary Clinton faced the “carpetbagger” criticism when she ran for U.S. Senate in 2000, and it certainly hurt Scott Brown to be running for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire a mere two years after losing an election for a Senate seat in Massachusetts.
Someone who is a recent arrival to Bloomington or Monroe County does not have the same kind of roots, knowledge and connections as someone who has been here for decades. If I had been a candidate for city council in 2003, I would have been far less qualified than I would be in 2015, after living here as a “townie” for another decade-plus. While I had been a Bloomington resident for ten years at that point, four and a half of those years were as an undergrad at Indiana University – hardly giving me the kind of experience I needed to be a truly effective city councilor. (No, that does not mean I am running this year!)
Relevant experience for elective office is a reasonable and proper thing to consider when choosing between candidates for elective office, either in the primary or in the general election. Considering and comparing experience is not a personal attack, nor is it “distasteful.” It is and always has been part of the normal political process, and we should not be shaming people who raise that issue in a campaign.