A curious thing happened at the end of a Moorhead candidates' forum Tuesday night. City council candidate Mark Altenburg, currently representing Ward 2 on the council, included the following passage in his closing statement: "To be clear, I am willing to work with whomever becomes mayor, whether that person is a moderate, a Republican, or a champion of Tea Party politics. Good change cannot be the result of bullying or demonizing or belittling those with whom you disagree. Change is the result of compromise and hard work."
Later, Moorhead mayoral candidate Mike Hulett, also a current city council member, made it a point in his closing statements to talk about his history of "collaborative" efforts and "non-adversarial" style.
"My history of working with others is pretty well known in the city of Moorhead," Hulett said.
It appeared Altenburg was trying to lay the groundwork that perhaps one of the mayoral candidates was known for his right-wing views and for bullying, demonizing or belittling his opponents. Knowing some of the history between Altenburg and Hulett, it appeared that candidate was Hulett.
And it was obvious Hulett was trying to tamp down his well-deserved aggressive image.
Well-deserved? Yes. This was a guy who called my radio show to angrily berate me after I criticized another councilman, Steve Gehrtz, for a cozy relationship with the Fargo school district. Hulett later apologized at a social function.
To back up his statement, Altenburg passed out copies of letters to the editor and opinion pieces Hulett wrote that ran in The Forum between 2008-2010.
Judging by his writing, it is clear Hulett is a Republican, which is fine. It is also clear Hulett is a member of the Tea Party wing of Republicans, which is also fine. We're all entitled to our political opinions and viewpoints. And, anyway, the Moorhead mayor's job is supposed to be non-partisan, as are council seats.
What raises red flags, however, is the name-calling, labeling and sometimes downright angry tone in Hulett's writing. For somebody pitching himself as a collaborative and non-adversarial, Hulett sure seems to have a problem with those who don't share his political viewpoints.
Hulett repeatedly refers to Barack Obama and Democrats as socialists and leftists. His hatred for the "liberal" and "mainstream" media is obvious. He calls U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi names. And Hulett personally attacks other Forum contributors with whom he disagrees, like Jane Ahlin and Lloyd Omdahl.
A letter sarcastically criticizing Ahlin is particularly mean-spirited. Under the headline, "We're so thankful for Ahlin's 'wisdom'" Hulett mocks Ahlin's observation that some countries don't particularly like the United States. He wrote:
"What are we to do? The dictator in Venezuela does not like us. Oh no! This is terrible. Mexico is on the list. Wait a minute. Mexicans don't like us? Has anyone checked with the 11 million Mexicans who risked their lives to sneak into the United States illegally? Ahlin and her friends should find them and let them know how bad we are. Maybe they'll go home."
Maybe they'll go home? Does that include the DREAM kids, who were born, raised, educated and now work in this nation? And does that sound like somebody who is collaborative and willing to work with others?
Of Obama, Hulett wrote before the 2008 election:
"Sure, Obama pretends to be 'in the middle' now as he goes after the undecided, but he is still a hard-core socialist. Check his history as a legislator. It speaks volumes. Why would he change his philosophy now? Sticking to his deep socialist roots, he and his congressional cronies would take our country to a place that is far from representative of most Americans. Surely that is not what you want. But if you allow yourself to be conned by this smooth-talking candidate and his liberal media collaborators, this is exactly what you will get."
Hard-core socialist? Deep socialist roots? Liberal media collaborators?
Yeah, this seems like somebody who will listen to all sides of an argument. Sure, this sounds like somebody who is non-adversarial.
And the funny thing is, the city in which Hulett wants to be mayor voted heavily for Obama in 2008 and solidly for him 2012. Moorhead is a Democratic town. So does Hulett look at the majority of Moorhead residents as socialists because they voted for Obama? Can he trust the residents he hopes to represent? Can he collaborate with them and city council members who are Obama supporters?
Hulett appears to be pitching his image as that of somebody who is willing to compromise and collaborate. His Tea Party leanings and his writings suggest otherwise.
(Mike McFeely is a talk-show host on KFGO-AM in Fargo, N.D. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcFeelyKFGO.)