Politics sometimes can be harsh. When a person enters the political arena, they open themselves, and to a lesser extent their family members, to public scrutiny most individuals would find untenable.
Unfortunately in our society, we’ve come to not only expect this, but accept it as the norm, reveling in all the juicy, sordid details the national media might uncover on candidates for national and sometimes statewide office.
Many times those details are legitimate news stories, but they are handled in a manner more befitting the National Enquirer rather than a reputable journalistic enterprise. Other times those details really have no place in the media, yet in an age when the smuttier and more violent so-called reality television is the higher its ratings are, they become fodder for TV news-entertainment.
In recent years, thankfully, Surry County seems to have been immune to much of this type of political activity. Sure, candidates — incumbents and challengers alike — have sometimes said things that weren’t entirely true, or worked extra hard to put their opponent in an unnecessarily bad light.
But today it appears dirty politics have come to the county.
We are running a story today about Todd Harris, a former Mount Airy commissioner who is seeking the office of Register of Deeds, challenging incumbent Carolyn Comer. The story details a judgment against him for a bank loan which he had signed onto as guarantor — not the principle seeking the loan, but what amounts to being a co-signer, responsible to pay the debt if the primary holder defaults.
The judgment against Harris was entered in January, after he had left the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners and more than a month before he filed to run for the register of deeds office.
The Mount Airy News learned of the action when a copy of the court decision was delivered, anonymously, to our office through the U.S. Postal Service. We often get anonymous letters or notes, and the very fact that the person sending them does not have the courage to sign his or her name immediately calls into question the veracity of the information being sent, as well as the character of the person doing the sending. Generally those items find their way into the garbage bin.
In this case, however, the facts sent to us were accurate, and dealt with a person running for public office. This made the case a legitimate news story, one which we are obligated to report, even if that meant pulling his wife, who is not running for public office, into the public arena.
One might say The Mount Airy News should have already known about this, and that is a legitimate concern. At the same time, the case was filed in another county, and the judgment was entered while Harris was not in public office nor seeking public office, thus it was not a news story at that time. Had the judgment occurred during his campaign, or while he was in office, it’s more likely The News would have picked up on it then.
Why does all this matter? Because we believe someone with an interest in seeing Harris lose the election sent it to us at this time, little more than three weeks before the election, in hopes of affecting the results. This sort of dirty politics is, we believe, shameful and we’ve been proud that our community seemed, by-and-large, to be above this sort of thing.
We don’t write this in hopes of eliciting sympathy for Harris, nor do we write this to spur any sort of backlash against Comer. She said she has no idea who would have done this, and we have no reason not to take her at her word.
But we do believe it is a sad day in local politics, and that whoever did this clearly has no sense of morals or fairness in the electoral process. Perhaps, whoever you are, there is a job somewhere for you in a national or statewide race, because we don’t need — or want — your sort here.