When former state legislator Trisha Beck first heard about the direct mailers to delegates attacking Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, and linking him to Barack Obama, she was tempted to give Daw a call and share a sympathetic understanding.
But she didn't.
Beck, a Democrat from Sandy, and Daw, a conservative Republican from Utah County, now have something in common. They both were the targets of cheap-shot gut punches from political consultant Jason Powers, a highly successful campaign strategist who specializes in direct mailers that demonize his clients' opponents.
Powers' current clients include Sen. Orrin Hatch and Utah Attorney General candidate John Swallow, both embroiled in GOP primaries. He also helped Sens. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, and John Valentine, R-Orem, defeat challengers in the State Republican Convention and is aiding other Republican legislators currently in primary election fights.
With all that, Powers found the time to establish the Proper Role of Government Defense Fund, which distributed several mailers attacking Daw, mostly for a 2007 bill he sponsored that would have required Utahns to buy catastrophic health insurance. At least one mailer features an unflattering picture of Daw wearing a surgical cap next to Obama, who also is wearing a surgical cap. Interestingly, Powers is an unabashed supporter of Mitt Romney, who also pushed a mandate to buy health insurance when he was governor of Massachusetts.
In order to avoid revealing the donors who paid for the mailers against Daw, Powers set up the Proper Role of Government Education Association, a nonprofit which donated more than $11,000 to the PAC for the fliers and, by law, does not have to disclose its contributors.
Daw supporters believe Powers established the PAC and went to extreme measures to hide the donors because he is working for the payday lender industry bent on punishing Daw for a bill he sponsored last session to impose stricter reporting requirements.
Powers denied that, but it wasn't until this year that he established a PAC attacking Daw's 2007 health care bill.
Beck, the Democrat, was the victim of a similar Powers tactic several years ago when she was running for the Utah Senate against eventual winner, Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, a Powers client. The attack on Beck took one vote out of context to make it appear she was in favor of legalizing medical marijuana, which was not true. That flier also used unflattering photos.
Before that, a similar attack, using out-of-context quotes, helped Niederhauser defeat his GOP primary opponent Bryson Garbett with misleading claims that he was a tax hiker.
Those attacks offended then-House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, who was supporting Garbett. But Curtis hired Powers later to help him in his own campaigns. Success, apparently, trumps all.
Powers has been an aide for Swallow in several campaigns, which also employed questionable tactics. In fact, when Swallow won the Republican nomination for the 2nd Congressional District in 2002, nearly all of his GOP opponents in the Republican convention that year had such sour tastes in their mouths they either didn't endorse him against Democratic incumbent Jim Matheson, or gave him a luke-warm nod at best. Some analysts believe that lack of GOP cohesion cost the Republicans that seat that year.
Several of Daw's colleagues told me they dislike the tactics against their fellow legislator, but there hasn't been much of a pushback against Powers. In fact, he still has plenty of clients because he wins.
So, to them, let me paraphrase the poignant poem by German theologian Martin NiemÃ¶ller:
First they came for the Democrats and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Democrat.
Then they came for the moderates and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a moderate.
Then they came for the RINOs and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a RINO.
When they came for me, there was nobody left to speak out for me.