Ring, ring, ring! Fliers, calls annoy

Published September 10, 2006

I picked the wrong time to take a vacation at home.

The last week of August and the first days of September were supposed to provide an escape from my workaday world.

It had seemed the perfect interval for time off. The St. Petersburg Times editorial board, of which I am a member, had finished interviewing and writing about candidates whose names appeared on Tuesday's primary election ballot, and interviews with candidates in the Nov. 7 general election had not yet begun.

Ah, time for a break from elections and electioneering.

Ha! I have never felt so harassed by politicians in my life.

If you spent much time at home recently, you know what I mean.

The telephone rang incessantly. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the call was a recorded message from a candidate or a candidate's supporters, either extolling the candidate's virtues or trying to slime opponents.

The calls came at all times of the day. Even on Sunday. Even on Labor Day. Ring, ring, ring, ring. We normally answer the phone, but we just let the answering machine get it, then erased the messages. On those occasions when we did answer, we listened for the slight pause before the automated recording clicked on, and we hung up before it even started.

The mailbox was stuffed every day with expensive, full-color fliers from candidates. Obviously, these candidates have too much money to burn. I grieve for the trees downed to create such junk. Does anybody really read them? Is anyone naive enough to think that a good source of objective information about a candidate is his or her campaign fliers?

At my house, we sorted the fliers from the "real" mail, and guess which stack went unread into the trash?

The problem is that political candidates have stopped informing us and started assaulting us. Their messages, repeated so often and containing so little that is new or substantive, get so obnoxious that we either tune them out or long for revenge. I can identify with the Tampa voter, mentioned in a recent column by my colleague Howard Troxler, who said he would vote against the candidate who called him the most.

Those of us who are good voters, or who live in households in which more than one political party is represented got me on both counts, may be specially targeted for this kind of political harassment. Candidates won't devote lots of resources to trying to influence people who aren't registered or haven't voted in years. That doesn't seem fair, does it? The nonvoters might actually benefit from seeing what political campaigns in this country have become. Perhaps they would be motivated to vote and try to change the political climate.

With the primary election behind us, we now get a blessed breather from the political interruptions in our lives. Enjoy it while you can. Nov. 7 is just around the corner, and the phone will soon start ringing.

Diane Steinle is editor of editorials for the North Pinellas editions of the St. Petersburg Times. She can be reached at steinle@sptimes.com.