|Rep. John Bennett|
A Little Bit of Corruption Just Went Down the Drain
Back in late January we had already began planning our Sequoyah County campaign after a few of our local members asked us to prepare to defend Rep. John Bennett from a Democrat challenger. We had already started discussing doing another debate like we did in 2010 and had started looking into a local school system that was said to be causing some problems for Bennett. The plans must have leaked out because around the first week of February the local chamber of commerce suddenly began inviting the two candidates to a “debate” that would be sponsored by the Sequoyah County Times, a local radio station, and the local chamber of commerce.
The Sequoyah County Times has never liked Bennett or was pressured to ignore what Bennett had been doing for the County. Cookson Hills Publishing owns several papers in the area and the Vian and Roland editions would print some of Bennett’s legislative updates but the Sequoyah County Times rarely did. Even worse was the time they cut Bennett out of a picture of a veteran’s ceremony, leaving his opponent, Tom Stites, in the picture but not even mentioning Bennett in the story. So you have a highly decorated wounded combat veteran being ignored and an Air Force Academy wash out. Depending on which story is being told, Tom Stites either had poor eyesight or motion sickness so after two years he wound up at college getting an engineering degree. Compared to Bennett’s two decades of service, including combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq it was a slap in the face to combat vets to crop Bennett out of the picture.
Then there is the Sallisaw Chamber of Commerce. The president, a man named Van, had been booted from the local mayor job after Bennett got involved in a fight where the locally elected chief of police had been hounded from office over something really stupid. The Chamber has been openly supporting the opponent against Bennett, with Tom Stites yard signs in some of their top leader’s yards.
The local radio station is reported to be ran by a decent man but imagine the pressure to follow the Chamber on everything if you want the ad revenue coming in.
Worse was the insistence of the organizers of the debates that ALL citizen questions be filtered by the organizers with any questions being submitted before the event, filtered and read by the organizers. Yup, no free speech for the local citizens.
We secured two venues a few weeks ago and sent in ad copy for the first debate. Bennett had already told the “debate” organizers of his concerns with their planned debates, putting everything in Sallisaw and not spreading the three debates around the County, the lack of free speech for the citizens, the lateness of the debate dates as he wanted feedback prior to the legislative session closing, and the problem with two of the three organizers actually supporting his opponent.
With the ad scheduled for the first debate we set up a new Facebook page called Tom Stites is Missing and set an ad budget to advertise the new page on the Facebook pages of around 15,000 Sequoyah County residents. And all hell broke loose.
First was an immediate response from the publisher of the paper and Stites Supporters. At first the publisher insisted their family wasn’t openly supporting Stites but backed off once we revealed that we had pictures of yard signs in local yards, one of which did turn out to be a Mayo family address, apparently from a daughter as she was using Mayo as her middle name but admitted to being a Mayo (the Mayo family owns the paper). Then there was an onslaught of really, really, nasty posts from Stites supporters, a bit of profanity, lots of ignorance, lots of lies told. Then one of them fraudulently made a complaint, saying that we were “bullying” a private citizen! What? The guy is running for office for Christ’s sake.
So our Facebook page was shut down overnight. After discovering this around 9 am Wednesday morning we had another page called Sequoyah County House Debates online in a few hours and we doubled the ad budget. Later that day Facebook responded to our appeal and put the original Facebook page back up.
Please do us a favor and “like” and share both pages to your friend lists on Facebook. Just click on the two links above to visit the pages.
Once the Facebook ads started kicking in the local paper started feeling the heat. Our almost quarter page ad was scheduled to publish on Wednesday and sure enough the Sequoyah County Times printed a big front page article in the same issue to get ahead of the issue, printed above the fold actually, the top story, outlining the controversy over the debates. Amazingly both sides were covered including a bit about the Sooner Tea Party sponsored debates.
The debate itself went off well, around thirty to forty attended. Tom Stites, the opponent, drove by around 6:30 to check out the attendance but he was too timid to come inside. Kind of silly to drive by a debate in your truck that is plastered with campaign signs… you really think that wouldn’t be noticed?
As Stites refused to show up we used the time to allow Bennett to answer questions from the crowd. There were two reporters from the local paper, one was very professional, the other was about as arrogant of a woman as I’ve met recently. The local chamber president showed up, lectured us for about eight minutes, which I allowed as he was hanging himself quite well, and about two minutes after his lecture the guy left the building. I kid you not, completely clueless as to how that looked.
After the questions Bennett put on a power point presentation of his accomplishments in the last six years. Lots of shocked faces after learning all that he had been doing, the local paper sure hadn’t told them what was going on.
At the closing of the meeting we asked the crowd if anyone of them had been aware of what Bennett had been doing and not a single hand went up. I brought up two final points, first that the local chamber president had no interest in hearing their views or finding out what Bennett had been doing and he showed that by walking out early. Lots of heads nodding at that. Then I mentioned the problem with the local paper having a lockdown on anything that Bennett had been doing for the County. The evil reporter (LOL) had been stupid enough to try to defend the local chamber president and the “moderating” of the questions at their debates. She had said that her Masters degree in Journalism qualified her to ask the questions and she would do a better job than the public.
At that point I interrupted as the meeting moderator and told her in no uncertain terms that her job was to attend and report what occurred, not to try to manipulate public opinion. Her job was to sit there and be quiet and listen.
Some of the Stites’ supporters had their eyes opened that night. One or two had a total change in body language as the meeting went on. The people were engaged at the end and asking a lot of good questions so we think despite the timidity of Tom Stites the meeting did show the local citizens that Bennett was not afraid to stand in front of a crowd and account for his work. Next Wednesday the Sequoyah County Times should run a story on the debate and we will see if their attitude has changed. They were used to having a monopoly on the news in their county but that Facebook page going out to about half of the area citizen’s Facebook pages certainly got their attention. Losing your credibility isn’t good for any business much less a newspaper.
The next debate will be on March 17th at the Muldrow Cherokee Community Center. Thursday night, starts at 6:30 pm, ends by 8 pm. We will have another quarter page ad coming out the day before and of course both Facebook pages will advertise the event heavily to citizens in all of the major towns in the County.