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February 22, 2012

Dems Accuse Wright of "Borrowing" Campaign Plan... But From Whom?

-1The Vermont Democratic Party on Wednesday accused Republican mayoral candidate Kurt Wright of “borrowing language” in a recent campaign plan from the Washington state attorney general.

In a press release, the party takes Wright to task for failing to offer Burlington voters specific proposals and says a 22-page government transparency plan the Wright campaign released yesterday “falls short.” Then it pulls the pin on this choice hand grenade:

“While most of the plan still utilizes the vague platitudes that have been a hallmark of Wright’s three campaigns for mayor, the beginning of his plan looks pretty familiar: borrowing language directly from the website of Republican Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna, a Republican gubernatorial candidate in Washington.”

As evidence, the party cites the following sentence from page four of Wright’s “A.C.T.I.O.N.” plan:

“Government accountability means that officials both elected and unelected, have a duty to explain their decisions and actions to the public.”

Then it pulls this from Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna’s website:

“Government accountability means that public officials — elected and un-elected — have an obligation to explain their decisions and actions to the citizens.” 

The release ends with a quotation from party chairman Jake Perkinson saying, “I think it is a shame that barely two weeks before voters go to the polls, Kurt released a plan long on platitudes, including those borrowed from his fellow Republicans, and short on solutions.”

According to John Ewing, a co-chair of the Wright campaign, the party’s allegation of borrowing is “obviously incorrect.”

“If they’re talking about the definition of transparency, that’s the classic description you’d find anywhere. I’m positive that what they claimed is incorrect,” he said. “I think the party is overreacting because it’s an issue that they would prefer to be out front on instead of Kurt.”

So are the Dems accusing Wright of plagiarism?

Not in so many words.

“We’re not accusing him of plagiarizing. We’re accusing him of borrowing an idea from another Republican,” said Jesse Bragg, the party’s executive director. “I wouldn’t use the term ‘plagiarism,’ but he’s certainly taking ideas from another Republican.”

So if the party isn’t accusing Wright of plagiarism, what exactly is it accusing him of?

Partisanship, apparently.

“Borrowing an idea directly from a Republican AG from Washington State who actually happens to be running for governor— that’s a clear example of partisanship, taking ideas someone else is touting that’s running for public office,” Bragg explains.

Wait, hold on. So the notion that public officials “have an obligation to explain their decisions and actions to the citizens” is a partisan idea, wholly owned by A.G. McKenna? [I "borrowed" that quotation from McKenna, by the way, in case you’re checking.]

“In this circumstance it’s this government accountability idea. It’s not the content of the idea. It’s the fact the idea itself was borrowed from a Republican,” Bragg elaborated. “The fact that words were taken almost verbatim from a Republican elected official I think further exemplifies the fact that he’s a partisan individual.”

So how did the Dems come upon the original version of this “borrowed” idea?

According to Bragg, after finding that the Wright plan “sounded familiar from things we’ve read other places,” the party poked around the internet a bit. They “more or less” did a Google search, Bragg said.

Being an enterprising reporter, I spent about two minutes feeding the original text through Google myself. Sure enough, the first thing that popped up was the attorney general’s web site featuring the quotation in question. But then I did something the Dems evidently didn’t do: I read the rest of the page.

Immediately below the disputed lines is this: an attribution indicating that the origin of the text in question was not McKenna’s office, but a document prepared by the U.S. Department of State.

Not so partisan after all.

Alerted to the discrepancy, Bragg simply stated, “What I said to you I think I’m going to let ride. I don’t have anything else I’d like to say about it.”

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