Covering politics is dangerous

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 26, 2002

The 2002 Mower County elections are making me paranoid.

Last Saturday, I walked into the Holiday Inn of Austin to cover a candidates forum. The room was dark and I sat down at a table where there were two empty chairs.

Not until I was seated and greeting the people at the table did I realize I was at the "Oman Table."

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There was the Mower County Attorney and his wife, plus friends.

"What would the opposition think?"

I thought before panic gave way to a plan. "I can sit at the Oman Table for half the forum and the Flanagan Table for the other half," I surmised.

This was serious. I was really worried about the appearance of bias, because of my dining room faux pas or as they say in Taopi … screw-up.

Reporters have to walk that thin line of objectivity. There cannot be the appearance of partiality if you're a reporter. That's left to police chiefs and county sheriffs.

So, I made the best of a bad situation. I forced another reporter to join me, refused the waitress' offer to have breakfast and stayed right where I was.

This election business is getting to me. It's getting intense.

I didn't say "Good Morning" to Mower County Sheriff's candidate Terese Amazi Saturday, but I spent way too long talking to her opponent Todd Clennon. What would Amazi think?

Omigod. Now that I remember, I even gave him campaign advice.

He used to be a Zamboni driver on the ice at Riverside Arena and I told him he needed a billboard showing him driving the machine and "crushing criminals."

I must have broken a few laws of objectivity in journalism with that one.

Then, Harry Willmott slipped me a note. If anything looks suspicious it's somebody surreptitiously -- Attention, guys at Black Bart's/Nemitz's. That means

"sneaky-like" -- handing somebody something in a crowd.

When the forum ended, I tried to get out of the place as quickly as possible, but bumped into Len Miller and Dick Lang, 4th District Mower County Commissioner candidates, kept it short and sweet, wishing them both "good luck" in the campaign ahead.

It looked like a clean exit for me, but there was Garry Ellingson and Dave Hillier, blocking my path.

It's safe talking to Dave, because he has no opposition in the 3rd District, but Garry and Harry are running for 5th District Mower County Commissioner.

Finally, I got by them, but on the way out of the place, who do I run into but the Flanagan Table.

I tried to explain why I was sitting at the Oman Table and then, for the second time that morning, I found myself giving political advice.

I told the candidate, Flanagan, that Pleasant Valley Township could be the key to this race. He got zero votes there in the Sept. 10 primary and in a close race that could be the difference.

Not exactly rocket science, but practical advice for every candidate in every election.

Finally, I extricated -- for the old geezer in the rust-bucket pickup truck that means "loosened" -- myself and retreated from the Holiday Inn and all those politicians.

The next day was Sunday and I went to church, expecting, because it's a Lutheran church, we would be talking about the Vikings in between services at our coffee fellowship hour.

My good friend Al Meyer sat down next to me and said, "Lee, you're a reporter and I wonder if you could tell me about the candidates and what they stand for? I'm kind of confused."

What was I to do? I told him what I know, but I kept looking over my shoulder for Amazi or Clennon or Miller or Lang or Oman or Flanagan or whoever.

It's getting dangerous.

Lee Bonorden can be reached at 434-2232 or by e-mail at