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posted: 10/14/2012 5:00 AM

Local candidates stretch the truth, but do voters care?

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A Time magazine article delivers some unsurprising news: Candidates make false or misleading claims about their opponents. But the story goes a step further: Most people don't care; they've already made up their minds about which candidate is truthful and which candidate is a liar, and any attempt at presenting them with additional facts only strengthens their resolve that their candidate is right and the other is making up stuff. Numerous examples are cited of how the Obama camp has misled or distorted Mitt Romney's views, while Romney does the same toward President Obama.

This distortion game trickles down into the state and local level. Here are some quick examples:

• State legislative candidate Deb Conroy's TV and print ads paint opponent Dan Kordik as unconcerned about sex offenders in our schools. Conroy's premise was a vote by Kordik 20 years ago as a Villa Park school board member protesting unfunded state mandates. For decades, local officials have been complaining that the state shouldn't pass legislation without the funding to enable the locals to carry out or enforce said legislation. Yes, blanket opposition to anything can be dangerous, and Conroy uses that school board resolution to suggest that it would include opposition to a state order for schools to do background checks to see if new employees are sex offenders.

Sometimes the truth is more nuanced than a candidate might lead the public to believe.

• State Sen. Carol Pankau of Itasca accuses rival Tom Cullerton, Villa Park's village president, of ethics breaches because he used a municipal email and cellphone account for campaign purposes. One of those emails, though, informs the village board and staff of his plans to run for state office and that he wouldn't be using the account for any future campaign announcements. The other two matters get hazier. For instance, Cullerton says he doesn't recall using his village cellphone to call the campaign of a congressional candidate.

• State Rep. Michelle Mussman of Schaumburg told voters in a campaign flyer her opponent, John Lawson of Roselle, plans to hold three government jobs -- with a combined salary of $186,475 -- if elected. As evidence, she points to a February Facebook post in which he noted he's three years away from putting in his 30 years as a police officer. Prior to that, though, Lawson told our editorial board, with Mussman present, he'll quit his cop job and that of Schaumburg Township assessor if he's elected to the legislature. His Facebook post is ambiguous about his plans. "When I win, I'll be at the PD for about 2 more years to get my 30," it reads.

All of this partisanship and deception can get wearisome and discouraging, but it is worth noting that it does not permeate every campaign. Not long ago I asked other editors who are interviewing candidates for office as part of our endorsement process for some general observations about the candidates. The response I received from Jim Slusher, our assistant managing editor/opinion, said it best: "Basically I like almost all the candidates. I may often disagree with them on political or social points -- and sometimes strongly. But personally, I almost always find candidates engaging and enjoyable to talk to. Politicians have a horrible reputation for insincerity and I suppose I see a little of that occasionally. But more often I'm impressed with the heart most candidates put into running and serving."

So, maybe, just maybe, if everyone can get away from the attacks, the shading of the truth and the other distractions that seem to permeate politics, there's a ray of hope.

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