Hot Air: The People’s Court

I’ll cut to the chase before it even begins:

  1. The court of public opinion does not operate under the rules of the courts of American law. Nor should it.
  2. The people we elect to office should be held to higher standards than the rest of us.

That’s the stuff of today’s Pencil. Now here’s the stuffing. The IDS has reported that three figures in Brandon Hood’s campaign for the Democratic nomination for Indiana’s 9th District seat in the United States Congress have resigned and are calling for Hood to drop out of the race. One of them, a volunteer, has charged that Hood sexually harassed her and then acted in a threatening manner when she told him to buzz off. The alleged incidents were witnessed by Hood’s campaign manager and an organizer. All three have severed their relationships with the Hood campaign and have called for him to quit the race. The Bloomington police have been notified of the accusations but no criminal charges have been filed.

Brandon Hood

One of the local organizations supporting Hood, the Rose Caucus, has withdrawn its endorsement, acc’d’g to the Herald-Times. (My search for a website for the group turned up no results.)

Joey Bollings of the IDS reports the campaign volunteer claims several other women have come forward on social media to accuse Hood of sexual harassment since the alleged incidents came to light earlier this week.

The Volunteer’s Facebook Post.

Thus far, Hood is keeping mum regarding the developments. Hood appeared on my WFHB radio interview program, Big Talk, in 2017, when he was running for the Democratic nomination for the seat the first time. In both campaigns, he has positioned himself as a champion for the working person and a political outsider.

Hood, Laura Lane of the H-T reports, has had a couple of scrapes with the law the last few years. He was charged with theft and possession of a controlled substance in September, 2018. A woman for whom he’d done home repair work claimed he’d stolen some prescription medications from her. Hood agreed to a deal in that case, pleading guilty to misdemeanor public intoxication and paying restitution to the women. Earlier this year, he’d been placed on probation for a separate case of public intoxication, for which he is serving probation until July.

A Subsequent Facebook Post by the Volunteer.

The story brings back memories of the Amanda Barge contretemps in early 2019. Barge, then an up-and-comer serving in her first term as Monroe County Commission and already a declared candidate for the Democratic nomination for Bloomington mayor, was reported by the IDS to have pressured a county contractor for sex and romance. The contractor had recorded Barge pestering him for an intimate relationship. Barge was forced out of the running for the nomination and subsequently resigned as Commissioner. A licensed social worker who ran her own practice here, she moved away from the area later in the year and has established herself in another state.

A Democratic Party activist has written on social media: “Let’s not do the Bloomington thing where we seem to feel the need to destroy people.” It was a comment under a post linking to the IDS story about the charges against Hood and was an obvious reference to the earlier Barge incident. Another commenter, noted for frequent political statements on social media wrote: “Like how the community destroyed Amanda? Sick of double standards…” A different commenter, referring to both the Hood and Barge situations characterized Bloomington as a “hate culture.”

Hood had been an administrator of the private Facebook group in which the above comments were posted. He has since been removed from that position.

These objections and characterizations might be valid if the accusations against Hood and Barge were hearsay. I have heard unflattering anecdotes about both Hood and Barge in the aftermaths of the accusations against them. I won’t recount them here because they are indeed so much hearsay and, on the part of several accusers, sour grapes. Truth is, I’ve never given these particular accusations much credence.

Why? Simple. None of gossipers was able to offer the slightest evidence for any of their professional and/or official charges. No one was able to produce written documents or recordings to back up their assertions.

Hood’s actions as laid out in the IDS article were observed by three separate people, at least one of whom reported them to the police. The three were not Hood’s enemies or antagonists. In fact, they embraced him to the extent that they either were employed by his campaign or volunteered to help him get elected to public office. A careful reading of the article and of both the volunteer’s and one of the campaign employee’s statements indicate that up until the very moment of the incidents, all three gave Hood their loyalty and trust. It was, they say, only Hood’s actions and his subsequent refusal to apologize or even acknowledge them that caused them to turn away from him.

Were this a jury trial in Monroe County Circuit Court, we’d need more, definitive evidence to convict Hood of a crime. To be sure, the Bloomington police have determined there isn’t enough evidence to bring criminal charges against him in this case. But they — and the courts — operate under more stringent standards than the voters do.

Same with the Barge story. She can be heard pestering — even pressuring — the county contractor on the recording. Copies of her text messages to the contractor along those lines also were presented in the original IDS story. Again, a savvy defense attorney might easily persuade a jury that none of this was enough to return a guilty verdict against her. The attorney would be correct; guilt can only be arrived at beyond a reasonable doubt.

The stakes in a court of law extend to putting the guilty in jail, ordering them to do community service, and/or slapping them with punitive fines. These are real retributions that we in a (purportedly) just society wish only to be visited upon those who have been found, again, beyond a reasonable doubt, to have broken the law.

But our court, the court of public opinion, isn’t so hamstrung. We want our public officials and candidates for elective office to be innocent beyond a reasonable doubt. When three friends of a candidate attest that he’s done something wrong, it’s eminently reasonable for us to believe them. When we can listen to a recording and read a politician’s text messages implicating her in exerting the power of her office over a county contractor for personal benefit, it’s reasonable to conclude, yep, she did it.

That’s not too much to ask. Our loyalty to, and our preference for, any particular candidate should indeed be free of doubt. If we should turn against Hood as many of us turned against Barge, he won’t go to jail. He won’t have to give up a year of weekends or vacations to pick up garbage at the side of county roads. He won’t have to pay a hefty fine. He’ll simply go back to doing what he’s been doing all along; that is, making a living as a private citizen.

And isn’t that precisely what happened to Barge? She’s not confined to a jail cell; she continues to ply her trade, albeit in another state.

All we ask for is exemplary behavior from our candidates and elected officials. Those who run for public office had better be certain their houses are in order. Hell, I wouldn’t run for office; there’d be a dozen or two things in my past I’d have to either explain away or do my damnedest to conceal. Nobody’s perfect, me especially. But I’m not so oblivious to think my mistakes, my idiocies, my peccadilloes, and my harebrained life of the last 40 or so years wouldn’t make an awful lot of voters think long and hard about my fitness for office.

Ideally, we want people better than ourselves to be our leaders and our representatives. That doesn’t sound like hate to me. That sounds like good sense.

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