Over the weekend, some voters in Monterey County’s District 4 received a text message asking them to take a poll in the run-up to the November election that has three-term Salinas City Councilmember Steve McShane pitted against Wendy Root Askew, Supervisor Jane Parker’s longtime chief of staff, to take the seat that Parker is vacating.
Parker has held the seat since 2009, and probably could have continued holding it indefinitely, but she decided it was time to retire. Because of the district’s weird geography – it mostly lies on the Peninsula, but wraps around to include south Salinas – and Parker’s popularity, it’s always been difficult for Salinas-centric candidates to gain traction.
Recipients of this poll received a text message invite. Those who took it were given a series of questions – more than 50 in all – designed to invite positive feelings about McShane, and negative ones about Askew. There were questions about Black Lives Matter (“Have you heard of Black Lives Matter?”) and about Seaside (“Have you heard of Seaside Community Leader and Civil Rights Activist Helen Rucker?” and “Have you heard of the Seaside Police Department?”). There were questions about McShane, Askew, Parker and Seaside Mayor Ian Oglesby (a la, have you heard of them and if you have, is your opinion of them favorable?).
And then came the section that questions Askew’s commitment to public safety and justice and imply she’s committed a crime. Err, make that crimes.
One went so far as to state that if there was a mass shooting event at a Peninsula school, it would kinda be Askew’s fault.
“As a school board member, Wendy Root Askew voted against the renewal of the School Resource Officers program on local school campuses allowing an increase of crime and drugs at schools and exposing students to delayed responses in the event of a mass shooting,” it states. “Does knowing this make you more or less likely to vote for Wendy Root Askew for Monterey County Supervisor?”
And this: “In 2011, Wendy Root Askew evaded the law by failing to appear in court for a violation. Does knowing this make you more or less likely to vote for Wendy Root Askew for Monterey County Supervisor?” Also this: “It is illegal for candidates to use campaign money for personal expenses. So, Wendy Root Askew paid her husband through her campaign committee to get around this law. Does knowing this make you more or less likely [to vote for her]?”
Questions about McShane include references to his former status as a registered Republican, his acceptance of big money from out-of-town business interests, his plan to support local businesses and farmers and to bring good-paying jobs and more tourism to the county.
I reached out to a few campaign consultants to ask if they knew who was behind the poll, since Team McShane isn’t taking credit for it. When I told him I was writing about it and asked him why he went negative, he paused and said he’d have to get back to me. A few hours later, his campaign manager called.
“We’ve seen the poll you mentioned and all the questions are factually accurate,” says Jennifer Fahselt, McShane’s campaign manager. When asked if McShane’s campaign was responsible for the poll, or if it came from a separate organization, she reiterated, “Our statement is we’ve seen the poll you mentioned and all the questions are factually accurate.”
One consultant said they didn’t want their name referenced in conjunction with “that shitshow,” but questioned the wisdom behind polling in such a way that the respondent could take screenshots.
“Usually you hope to hear people start scribbling. If it’s done this way, you’re telling your opponent what you’re looking at,” they said. “A poll, if it’s good, you shouldn’t be able to tell which way it’s leaning because you want to get real answers.”
As for Askew, the 2011 case was a lapsed car registration she cleared up almost immediately. As for the payment to her husband, she’s reimbursed him about $7,000 total for postage, online ads, filing fees and office expenses, per campaign finance forms filed with the county elections department.
The Nov. 3 election is 96 days away.