As the Senate District 29 race entered its final leg, the elbows started flying.

It’s difficult to tell which candidate, Bill Hansell or Maryl Graybeal Featherstone, holds the lead in the final week before the election. Both have plenty of vocal support, in the public and in our “Letters to the Editor” section. Both have had active campaigns, as evidenced by yard signs throughout the district and mailboxes stuffed with flyers.

They also have taken debate podiums a number of times to give their pitch for office — Featherstone touting her business acumen, Hansell leaning on his understanding of government and rural issues.

They’ve also taken their jabs at each other. Since Day 1, after welcoming her to the race, Hansell has called out Featherstone as a lifelong Democrat who became a Republican just months before filing for office. Featherstone, who early on said she didn’t want to get into negative campaigning, has retorted that Hansell is a “career politician,” a dirty word among some in the right wing.

Ironically, it was Featherstone who unleashed the politically savvy attack by mail on Hansell with just about a month before election day. Her glossy flyers brought a range of accusations against Hansell, including increases in the county’s budget and a State Ethics Commission investigation into his use of county resources.

Frankly, it was a dirty attack built on half-truths and manipulated data by the “Friends of Maryl Graybeal Featherstone.”

City Editor Joseph Ditzler has reported on the flyers in Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s East Oregonian. His reporting shows, while factual, the claims of increased spending are out of context. The fact that Umatilla County has the highest budget of any county in the district shouldn’t be surprising — we have the highest population by a wide margin. The same could be said about the massive budget increase since Hansell became commissioner 29 years ago. The county’s revenue also has greatly increased in that time.

And for the investigation, that may be the cheapest shot taken. A complaint that Hansell was misusing county vehicles, credit cards and airline miles was brought to the Oregon Government Standards and?Practices Commission about 10 years ago. It was also dismissed about 10 years ago. On the mailer, she re-opens the accusation with a “some say,” alleging this closed investigation is still weighing on some people’s minds.

On another flyer, Graybeal accused Hansell of avoiding signing his name to a budget that would close down a health clinic in Milton-Freewater and a regional detention center in Pendleton. In reality, budgets only need two commissioners to sign off, and there are no surprises at the table. The budget has been looked over for three months.

That’s not to mention the graphic used on the flyer is of a county document appointing a member to the wolf committee, an entirely unrelated piece of legislation.

The series of flyers hit mailboxes in a steady stream, chipping away at voters on the fence. The true Hansell backers surely saw through the rhetoric, but for those who weren’t leaning heavily, the caricature of the over-spending politician may have been accepted. It’s a commonly used campaign tactic, and in a week from now we’ll see if it paid off.

It’s a shame that this race couldn’t have stayed away from the mud slinging, and that Featherstone in particular chose to distort Hansell’s record rather than bringing up factual criticisms of his ability to serve as a senator.

Featherstone accuses Hansell of being a “business as usual” politician. We’d level the accusation that Featherstone is a “politics as usual” businesswoman.

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