False claims online ignite partisan spat

“When you have Republicans and Democrats in the same room there will always be three sides. The Republican perspective. The Democrat perspective and what actually transpired.”

Sam Low, a Republican politician in Snohomish County, found himself entangled in a social media scuffle with a Democrat rival this past weekend, and he offered what could be described as a of truthiness to explain the inability to reconcile their conflicting views.

“My guess,” the county councilman penned on Facebook, “is when you have Republicans and Democrats in the same room there will always be three sides. The Republican perspective. The Democrat perspective and what actually transpired.”

In this instance, what occurred led the chairwoman of the Snohomish County Republican Party on Monday to demand that an executive of the county Democratic Party resign and the party’s leader apologize for the spread of falsehoods online about a GOP member.

The Republican party leader is not going to get what she seeks, although it’s pretty clear the Democrats’ portrayal of events does not sync with reality. That means this bout of jousting likely will spill into the streets of Washington’s third most-populous county come the campaign season.

The dispute stems from a meeting March 14. Snohomish County election officials invited party leaders and members of the Canvassing Board to see the county’s new ballot-counting machinery and to learn about measures intended to secure the system against election fraud.

Republican Party Chairwoman Debbie Blodgett and Democratic Party Chairwoman Hillary Moralez took part. Doug Roulstone, a Republican, a former congressional candidate and a retired U.S. Navy captain, came as Blodgett’s guest. Low attended in his role as a Canvassing Board member.

Things got weird two days later.

Roger Burton, a Democrat who was not at the meeting, went on Facebook and made claims that a Republican guest — identified incorrectly as the state committeeman — had asked, “How are the dirty Mexicans going to vote (and cheat the system)?”

Burton also wrote that this person, after shaking hands with Moralez and learning she was of Mexican heritage, said “I hope I don’t get AIDS.”

Finally, he asserted, Moralez called this person a racist and “he responded that he was ‘not a racist’ he was ‘an American.’”

On Saturday, Diana McGinness, chairwoman of the 44th Legislative District Democrats, put the post on Low’s Facebook page. She, too, was not at the meeting but demanded Low remove the state committeeman from his position. She made the same demand in a note to Blodgett, the Republican leader.

The problem: The state committeeman wasn’t there and Roulstone, the guest, didn’t make those comments. When Low pointed this out to McGinness in their Facebook exchange, she didn’t back down.

Burton said he relied on what his party leader, Moralez, shared about the meeting.

That would mean Moralez heard comments that were not made by people who were not present.

Moralez said she did not know anything about Roulstone and she did not call him a racist.

As for those claimed comments on AIDS and Mexicans, she said: “I did not hear the guest say those exact words.”

On Monday, the GOP’s Blodgett emailed her Democratic counterpart asking Moralez for an apology and McGinness’ resignation.

“This is an outrageous and unacceptable case of defamation of character and of lying on the part of the individual who spoke of these untruths, the person who wrote this social media post as well as those who publicized it,” Blodgett wrote. “At such a time of divisiveness and polarization in our country, false accusations such as these which are intended to destroy the character and reputation of an individual are reprehensible.”

Moralez replied Tuesday to say there would be no changes in leadership. She did not apologize but said she had spoken with the posters of the comments.

She raised concerns about the intent of questions she said were posed by “the guest.”

“The fact that focus was brought repeatedly towards how to prevent ‘illegal’ citizens voting or defrauding the system has a narrative that is closely tied with racism and minority oppression,” she wrote. “Sometimes the hidden subtext is so easily ignored and handed off as normal until an outside perspective is given and then it should be addressed.”

Moralez called the GOP leader’s response to the social media posts “reactionary” and “overblown.”

“As you said, there’s no need to be divisive in this current political climate and no need to turn every Facebook fight into a partisan debate,” she wrote.

What happened here isn’t unique to Snohomish County.

Political discourse is evolving to a point where disputes rarely get resolved in private on the phone or in an office but more likely on the high-speed lanes of the Internet where facsimiles of decorum and truth are neither demanded nor required.

At least that’s one perspective.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

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