Archive for Thursday, March 13, 2003

Commission candidates disavow mudslinging

Highberger essay controversy continues after original magazine version located

March 13, 2003


Charges, countercharges and promises to take the high road.

That's how the City Commission campaign went Wednesday, with the opposing sides accusing one another of mudslinging as each candidate promised to avoid negative campaigning.

Meanwhile, proof emerged that candidate Dennis "Boog" Highberger was telling the truth when he denied making the most inflammatory anticapitalist statements attributed to him in an altered version of an essay, "What is Money?" that he wrote for The Gentle Anarchist magazine at Kansas University in 1987.

Several versions of the essay appeared on the Internet and were circulated around town by Highberger's critics. An original copy of the magazine, found by the Journal-World in the University of Michigan archives, confirmed Highberger's account.

Highberger did not return calls for comment.

But Highberger's critics continued to challenge him in e-mail. They said the money essay and two others Highberger apparently wrote during the 1980s demonstrated a bent against business.

"Can you expand on why you believe the meaning of these essays are true or if your views on capitalism have changed in the past 15 years?" Lawrence banker Clint Bradley wrote in an e-mail to Highberger, which he copied to more than 50 other recipients.

Youthful views

In an earlier interview with the Journal-World, Highberger said he still stood by "What is Money?" But he disputed that he's anticapitalist.

"I still think that's a pretty good article, frankly," he said. "There are probably some things that I wrote in my early 20s that I might phrase differently, but that article really isn't one of them."

Highberger's mates on the Progressive Lawrence Campaign, Mike Rundle and David Schauner, said they didn't believe Highberger was anticapitalist.

"I think the voters of Lawrence are pretty smart," said Rundle, who had read the money essay. "If they take the time to go read this, they're going to see nothing to take exception to."

Schauner said he hadn't read the essays, but called allegations of anticapitalism "baloney."

"I'm pro-capitalist," Schauner said. "That's our system. It works, but it doesn't work in an unfettered way."

Campaign influences

The remaining candidates -- Greg DiVilbiss, Lee Gerhard and Lynn Goodell -- said they wouldn't use the ruckus as a campaign issue.

"I'm not making it a campaign issue," Gerhard said. "I'm campaigning for something ... I have no comments on any other candidates."

But in an e-mail to Bradley, Highberger wrote that the incorrect version -- which likens capitalism to prostitution -- was circulated, although not created, by Brad Finkeldei. Finkeldei is a member of Gerhard's campaign steering committee.

Finkeldei said he found the essay during an Internet search and sent it to a friend, but not with the expectation it would be widely distributed.

"I never vouched for its authenticity or accuracy," Finkeldei said. "Just that it's out there."

DiVilbiss said such tactics had worked both ways. He said he believed Progressive Lawrence Campaign allies were behind a letter-writing campaign that falsely targeted him as the "sole supporter" of a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive.

"I'm not saying it's the candidates that did it, but I believe it was people from their group," DiVilbiss said of Progressive Lawrence.

Some candidates are getting heat from voters concerned with mudslinging. In response, Goodell e-mailed one critic a pledge that "neither I nor my campaign committee will participate in such unseemly behavior."

In fact, all the candidates except Schauner have signed a form from the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission promising to run a "fair" campaign. Schauner said he would sign the pledge if it were an issue in voters' minds.

The election is April 1. The top three vote-getters will receive terms on the commission.

-- Caroline Boyer, a journalism student at Kansas University, contributed to this report.

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