The first votes haven’t even been counted yet, but this election already ranks as one of the more memorable and downright bizarre ones we’ve ever seen.
That’s certainly the case in Livingston County. The election took another strange twist late last week, when the Livingston County Republican Party mailed out an attack piece aimed at Democratic County Commission candidate Kasey Helton.
What’s strange about it is that in this heavily Republican county, the Republicans have always pretty much just ignored the local Democrats. The Dems never win anything in Livingston County – ever – so there’s never been a reason to even acknowledge them, much less spend money attacking them.
Not in 2018, though. And not with Kasey Helton.
As Livingston County Democratic candidates go, Helton is nothing short of a phenomenon. And I don’t mean that in an entirely positive way. In order for the Livingston County Republican Party to spend time and money going after her, she must have really, really gotten under their skin.
Which she has.
By way of full disclosure, I’ve known Kasey Helton for years. We worked together at the Livingston County Press and Brighton Argus in the late 1990s and early 2000s – I was an editor and she was a reporter – and we’re Facebook friends today. I’m a Republican and she’s a Democrat, and we’ve had our share of good-natured sparring matches on social media in recent years.
Helton is running for the Livingston County Board of Commissioners in District 6, which includes Marion Township, the Village of Pinckney, and parts of Putnam and Hamburg townships. She’s running against incumbent Republican Commissioner Bob Bezotte, the former Livingston County sheriff.
It’s safe to say they don’t like each other.
Sometime late last week, the Republicans sent out an attack ad that highlighted some of Helton’s more outrageous Facebook posts from the past year or so. Helton swears on Facebook a lot, and she despises President Trump and everything associated with President Trump. So the attack ad put a spotlight on that.
The piece was headlined “Let’s look at what Kasey Helton has said.” Among other things, it featured Facebook posts in which she called Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh an “aspiring rapist” and another that simply said “F*** you Trump.” (Kasey didn’t use the asterisks in the original post, in case you’re wondering. She used the actual F-word.)
For good measure, the piece featured a photo of Helton in her roller-derby shirt (she’s on a roller-derby team). Then the ad asks, “Is this what we want from our County Commissioner?”
Now, was the ad fair? Of course it was. She said all those things on Facebook and I’m sure she still stands behind them, so there’s nothing wrong with the Republicans repeating them in an ad. She should be happy about it.
But the question is, why? Why did the Republicans do it? They’ve never spent money attacking a local Democrat before (although they did put out a much tamer piece aimed at state rep candidate Mona Shand last week, too), so why did they do it this time?
Helton will say they did it because they’re afraid she actually might beat Bob Bezotte.
I kind of doubt that. It’s a fact – not my opinion – that Democrats never win a county seat in Livingston County. Not in the last three decades, at least. The last Democrat to win a seat on the County Commission was Jake Donohue from Gregory about 30 years ago. Since then, the Republicans have won everything, and it’s never even been close. Bezotte is a former sheriff who is very well-known and has never lost an election.
It’s a heavily Republican district in a heavily Republican county, and the incumbent is a very well-known Republican. So I don’t think they were sweating this one too much. If Helton wins, it will be the biggest political upset in Livingston County history, by far.
And unlike a lot of other Democrats who run for office in Livingston County, Helton makes no effort whatsoever to portray herself as a centrist. She’s to the left of Bernie Sanders on pretty much everything, and she seems very proud of it.
She launches four-letter tirades against Trump every chance she gets. She has a picture of a marijuana leaf on her campaign Facebook page. She’s not exactly trying to claim the middle ground here.
So, are the Livingston County Republicans worried that a far-left liberal could actually beat Bob Bezotte? I don’t think so.
Instead, my theory is that they just really, really, really can’t stand her. And so, she provoked them into spending some time and money attacking her. She should be wearing this as a badge of honor.
I’m guessing they’re also fed up with her fairly blatant hypocrisy, which was on full display again in her response to the attack ad.
On more than one occasion, Helton has tried to make the case that it’s the Republicans – and only the Republicans – who have been guilty of making nasty personal attacks in recent months.
Helton made a huge deal out of a meme that Bezotte shared on his Facebook page that referred to two female Democratic Congresswomen as “hags.”
Helton was disgusted by that, and continues to use it as evidence of her opponent’s unworthiness for office. In her response to the GOP attack ad, this is what Helton wrote:
“You will never, ever find me referring to anyone with a derogatory, dehumanizing term like “hag” — the word that appeared in a meme my opponent re-posted used to describe two women. Then he lied about it, publicly. People who know me know that I believe all people deserve basic human respect — even people I don’t agree with.”
“You will never, ever find me referring to anyone with a derogatory, dehumanizing term?”
You called Brett Kavanaugh an “aspiring rapist.”
“I believe all people deserve basic human respect — even people I don’t agree with?”
Where does “F*** you Trump” fit into that?
If you feel that Brett Kavanaugh and Donald Trump deserve it, so be it. But you said it, so you have to own it.
So the hypocritical stuff probably rankled the local GOP, as well, and that no doubt played a part in their decision to go after her.
Now, all that said, I have to say that a large part of me admires Helton for running. I admire anyone of any political persuasion who is willing to run for office.
And selfishly, as someone who did it himself, I have a special soft spot for former journalists who are willing to run for office. Journalists spend all their time reporting on politicians and criticizing politicians, so special credit is due to any journalist who is willing to not just talk the talk, but walk the walk.
By my count, Kasey is the fourth former journalist from the Livingston County Press and Brighton Argus to run for office.
And I have to say that while I think we were pretty darn good at putting out a newspaper back in the day, we’ve been pretty darn bad at winning elections.
I ran for state representative as a Republican back in 2002, and I lost in the primary. Former publisher Rich Perlberg ran for state representative as a Republican in 2014, and he lost in the primary.
Jen Eyer, a Democrat who was a reporter for the Argus back in the 1990s, was appointed to an opening on the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners a couple years ago, but when she ran to retain the seat, she lost, too.
So we’re 0-for-3. And unless we see the greatest upset in Livingston County political history on Tuesday, we’re about to be 0-for-4.
But hey, in a bizarre year, anything can happen.