50 states with politics dirtier than yours

February 21, 2014

There are two kinds of people in the United States -- those who are certain their state has the dirtiest politics in the country and those who are shocked at how dirty politics have invaded their pristine state. Notice the common denominator -- all states have their share of dirty politics, whether they welcome it as an old, ornery friend or try to push it out the door.

With the midterms quickly approaching, mentions of "dirty politics" are about to skyrocket. (Sidenote to politicians -- accusing your opponent of "dirty politics" is pretty unoriginal, as the list below shows. Let's mix it up this year. Your constituents, current or potential, and press corps will thank you).

But before you read a column bemoaning the tricksters that have invaded some lightly populated state, turning their cordial electoral contests into the kind they assumed only existed in dirty D.C., remember that it's happened before. And if a state suffering short term memory loss tries to steal the tarnished crown of dirtiest state of them all, there are at least ten states that will fight them for it.


Your state's politics are probably dirtier than this pig, sources say. (AP Photo/The Tampa Bay Times, Will Vragovic)

Here then are political observers in all 50 states either reveling or lamenting the fact that they are probably the dirtiest state in the union when it comes to politics.

Alabama

October 28, 2004: "Dirty tricks and diversions are nothing new in races for high office. They've taken center stage in presidential campaigns and statewide contests. But the trickery and rhetoric have trickled down this year, according to politicians and their handlers. Phony and misleading letters, fraudulent phone messages and malicious rumors have infected races in Birmingham area legislative districts and cities."

August 17, 2013: "It was the late Fuller Kimbrell, Gov. James E. 'Big Jim' Folsom's finance director, who summed up the whole thing about as neatly as anyone could. 'In my day,' he said, 'politics in Alabama was a dirty business, if it was done right.' And it was."

Alaska

August 31, 1995: "Politics in the Last Frontier State has long been a bare-knuckle trade where opinions are seldom sheathed in the kind of politeness found elsewhere. But even by local standards, the recent physical attack on a visiting Democratic lawyer from Capitol Hill has left many people stunned."

Arizona

May. 28, 2006: "Arizona, according to the published IRE report, was a land of 'gambling, golf and gangsters,' a place 'in deep trouble.' And that was the mild language. 'The state has become a haven for white-collar swindlers' with 'itchy-palmed public officers eager to look the other way for a price,' states one story. 'The ability of mobsters to move unscathed and corrupt public officials to go unpunished is the result of the benign attitude of some judges and prosecutors and bar associations that function more as social clubs than guardians of the legal ethic.'"

Arkansas

November 7, 2006: "What a shame that the dirty tricks of national politics have come to Arkansas. What is being done to Mike Beebe in the ads by the Coalition for Arkansas' Future, a.k.a. the Arkansas Republican Party, is evil and unethical."

California

November 21, 1999: "'Politics in this valley is a dirty game, don't fool yourself,' her October newsletter reads."

Colorado

October 2, 2010: "There was a time in Colorado when being the county coroner meant having your name on a ballot every four years but no real need to campaign, a time when holding the job was about as far from controversy as one could get. That time is gone. Seventeen of Colorado's 64 counties have contested coroner's races - more in one year than anyone can remember - and three others were settled in primaries. And there's even been some bare-knuckles politics in some of the races, with charges and countercharges. 'Feisty would be a very good way to describe it,' said Chris Herndon, a longtime deputy coroner in multiple counties. 'Dirty would be another way.'"

January 19, 2014: "Now the two are battling in a political race like those shaking up more morgues across Colorado. These are battles that figuratively are bringing out the scalpels."

Connecticut

September 23, 2010: "But this is Connecticut, my home state, where the business of campaigns and governance used to be a predictable, serious affair, the province of mostly estimable public servants who worked their way up through town councils or local party machines. Sometimes called the Land of Steady Habits, Connecticut was never a place for garish campaigns and outsize characters with bank statements to match. ... As I watched McMahon’s hopeful supporters file out of the ballroom clutching their tote bags, I found myself wondering: when, exactly, did genteel Connecticut become Louisiana? And if politics could get this weird here, then what did that mean for the rest of the country?"

Delaware

September 14, 2008: "'But I have conservative views,' said Pollock, who has voted in every election and primary since 1976. 'I do not like the negative campaign advertising I see with Mike Castle. He's saying Christine O'Donnell didn't pay her taxes. That's one in particular. Dirty politics was a Jersey thing, a Philly thing. Now it's trickled into our state.'"

Florida

November 1, 1990: "From mysterious telephone messages to 'Gestapo' tactics, it's election showtime in a town known for dirty politics. ...For instance, Longwood police knocked on Lovestrand's door in September to let him know that he was illegally distributing campaign fliers in residents' driveways. 'It's reminiscent of Nazi Germany,' Lovestrand said."

October 30, 2006: "The snarky politics that played out in the District 1 County Council primary late last summer may have shocked some people, but not state Rep. Pat Patterson. Patterson, who is running for re-election against touch-screen-voting foe Ron Cahen, says the District 1 race has always been dirty, dirty, dirty. ... 'It's that west Volusia politics,' Patterson told Pulse. 'That district is always just a real hard fight, and it can get very ugly.'"

Georgia

May 10, 2006: "We are early in this year's round of elections, but accusations are already being hurled that one campaign is playing 'dirty tricks' on the opposition campaign. It's a very old tradition in Georgia politics."

Hawaii

March 18, 2012: "Members of former Gov. Ben Cayetano's mayoral campaign say it's no coincidence that eight gunshots were fired at the upper level glass window of the Cycle City motorcycle shop right at or near three of their campaign banners in recent days. ... 'I've seen some dirty tricks in my years, but this is about the lowest,' said Heen, a former judge and longtime Democratic stalwart. 'This kind of activity has no place in Hawaii politics.'"

Iowa

December 13, 2007: "Two old sayings are colliding in the presidential campaign, and there's some truth to both of them. Politics is dirty. Midwesterners are nice."

November 3, 2013: "Election seasons in this small eastern Iowa town are usually cordial affairs. But this year, a group backed by the billionaire Koch brothers has changed that."

Idaho

October 2, 2005: "Idaho can be ugly -- barroom brawls, dirty politics, sewage flowing from a pipe -- and it can be lovely -- flowers on the Owyhee desert, a full moon on the Camas Prairie, sunlight on the St. Joe. Anyplace in the mountains. Any mountains. You take your pick."

Illinois

July 14, 2008: "We all know that politics in Sangamon County - with its rich bounty of government jobs - can be especially bare-knuckled. But this letter goes well beyond anything that could ever be construed as a political argument."

Indiana

January 23, 2000: "Unfortunately, Indiana has a long bipartisan history of dirty politics; not only have we let the process poison our water, but it's ruining our air and soil, too. That history is why we get some of the lowest marks in the nation on environmental scorecards, typically being lumped with the bottom-of-the-barrel Southern states."

Kentucky

January 25, 2014: "A 1992 F.B.I. sting involving bribery and horse-racing legislation netted convictions of nearly 11 percent of the Kentucky Legislature."

Louisiana

November 17, 2011: "It was a rough campaign,' Smiley said. 'Politics in Louisiana is a tough business, and, like I said, if I would have ended up losing, I would have called that night and congratulated her, and that’s all I can say.'"

Maine

December 17, 2005: "Amy Fried, who teaches political science at the University of Maine, said the phone jamming would have been less scandalous in some parts of the country. 'But I think in Maine it does count as a scandal,' she said, 'because Mainers are used to very clean politics.'"

June 27, 2008: "Like Tom Allen’s effort last summer to bird-dog Sen. Collins, this is another deceitful trick one would expect in Chicago or San Francisco politics. Such actions don’t play here in Maine. Tom should have learned his lesson last year. We in Maine don’t appreciate candidates who stoop to smear and dirty tricks. We appreciate openness and honesty in our politicians."

Massachusetts

March 16, 1994: "A separate report by the U.S. Department of Transportation blames 'Massachusetts politics' for pumping up federal contributions to the artery project when Boston is not the top priority for relief from traffic density. This seems to be more a complaint that Massachusetts has clout - in the persons of Sen. Edward Kennedy and the late Speaker O'Neill, among others - than anything else, and the department's suggestion that federal subsidies to the project be capped would be an extreme step at this juncture. But dirty politics erodes the public's esteem for its own government. Neither will be reversed until the shrug and the wink are replaced as the official state gestures."

March 16, 1978: "When he found evidence of 18th century political skullduggery in the Hampshire-Berkshire district of Massachusetts, he wanted to entitle his account 'Hanky-Panky in Hampshire-Berkshire.'"

Michigan

December 22, 2012: "As snowbirds who read the Free Press online and e-mails from like-minded friends, we are horrified at what has happened to our state. It seems as if it has been hijacked! This is not the Michigan we know."

Minnesota

March 10, 2006: "We knew it all along. Minnesotans are exceptional. We aren't as politically vulnerable to garbage campaign ads as most Americans. We and Americans in just a few other states expect a decent tone in campaign ads. We more often punish the messengers delivering dirty ads. The challenge is to keep up our standards."

Mississippi

October 17, 1989: "'We don't have a place for dirty politics in Mississippi,' said state Rep. Isiah Fredericks."

Missouri

March 24, 1939: "At the Capitol, a veteran Kansas City State Senator, M.E. Casey, stalked from the House of Representatives after Governor Stark's speech with this parting sally 'Hilterism. Hitlerism and just dirty, plain politics.' ... 'The police Deparment of Kansas City has become a Signal and notorious failure,' he said. 'As a police department it was virtually ceased to function. it has become the instrumentality of politicians.'"

Montana

1907: "Referring to W. A. Clark, but describing the general state of affairs in Montana, Mark Twain wrote in 1907 that Clark 'is said to have bought legislatures and judges as other men buy food and raiment. By his example he has so excused and so sweetened corruption that in Montana it no longer has an offensive smell.'"

February 6, 2014: "We know dirty money has bought Montana politicians in the past. We must be vigilant."

Nebraska

January 4, 2010: "Having lived on the East Coast for most of my life, living the past 10 years in Lincoln, I've found Nebraska a much kinder, gentler place. It seemed to me there is much less cronyism and dirty politics here than any other place I've lived. With Ben Nelson's recent vote on health care reform, I'm embarrassed that my adopted state will now be viewed as one of those receiving a special deal for our senator's vote on health care reform. Nelson should be voting for health care reform because it's the right thing to do, not because it gives Nebraska a break on Medicaid payments. Shame on Nelson for selling his vote and embarrassing all Nebraskans in the national arena."

Nevada

October 30, 2006: "We are fairly new residents to Nevada and Reno, part of the tide coming from California, enjoying the less hectic lifestyle of this area. The coming elections will be our first major elections in Nevada, and more and more we are appalled by the nasty, dirty politics aired on television stations. Even in California, where I admit politics can be bizarre, this level of attacks is unheard of."

New Hampshire

June 23, 1890: "NEW HAMPSHIRE CAN GIVEN MAINE POINTS IN CORRUPTION"

May 23, 2010: "A recent study of the 50 states and District of Columbia ranked New Hampshire dead-last on a scale measuring corruption."

New Jersey

October 12, 2010: "Because of the closeness of this race, the nation is watching. What it's seeing is dirty politics, Jersey style."

New Mexico

October 23, 2006: "Gov. Bill Richardson has admitted engaging in dirty politics - and he's not about to clean up his act. Richardson played the role of the contrarian in a story in The New York Times on Saturday about the nearobsessive use of antiseptic hand sanitizers by politicians as they press the flesh on the campaign trail. Richardson is adamantly not joining the Purell-using camp. 'The great part about politics is that you're touching humanity,' Richardson told the Times. 'You're going to collect bacteria just by existing.'"

New York

July 11, 2004: "Many experts on urban politics say New York City, despite its share of scoundrels and the allure of the Tammany myth, has had relatively clean government for most of the past 70 years. Not so suburbia. In fact, to read the news these days is to survey a sprawling realm of suburban malfeasance that would leave the Tammany pols humbled."

July 12, 2009: "In the end, Albany politics became so partisan, so high-stakes, so just plain mean and self-serving that the ugly monthlong standoff that made New York's Senate a national bad example was inevitable. It was so bad, even well-meaning senators couldn't stop rogues loosed in their house. The rogues took with them the Senate's power, its time and its dignity. And it won't be the last time. 'I'm less excited about being a senator today,' said Sen. Neil Breslin, an Albany Democrat whose courtly manner was once the model of Senate demeanor."

North Carolina

March 10, 1985: "North Carolina has long benefited from what authors Jack Bass and Walter DeVries, in Transformation of Southern Politics, call the state's 'progressive myth.' Yet it is a state with an unsettled soul. The forward-looking pace of its Sunbelt-ripened cities and the ivied liberalism of Chapel Hill commingle with an unreconstructed hardline still prevalent in its mountains and rural flatlands. Unfortunately, these divisions fueled the Helms-Hunt race. What could have been an eloquent contest of alternative philosophies turned into an unseemly mud-wrestling match, trading on stereotypes and polarization. Helms' sharply negative pounding set a tone Hunt first sought to avoid, then tried futilely to match."

North Dakota

December 31, 1995: "We have become victimized by the nationalization of state and local politics. National political contributions will be influential in state and legislative races and the money will come with hoops through which local political leaders must jump. Even more damaging will be the influx of the amoral political consultants and campaign advisers who don't give a hoot or holler about ethics as long as they can chalk up another victory or two.Not only will national political parties be embroiled in state and local politics but other national organizations will be trying to orchestrate outcomes in North Dakota."

Ohio

May 2, 1999: "After covering politics over the past two decades for newspapers in Toledo, Cleveland, and now Columbus (never mind that I can't seem to hold a job), I know when a campaign is dirty and when it's not."

Oklahoma

June 9, 2012: "'The lies, the innuendos and negative campaigns,' Blair said. 'It's unbelievable. It's over the top. I've always heard politics were dirty, but Republican politics in Oklahoma, they get really dirty.'"

Oregon

November 20, 2005: "Portland traditionally fancies itself a city unencumbered by corruption, a municipal mirror of Boston, its famously blue-nosed near-namesake ... But early history shows such was never the case ... Portland was no different from other American cities when it came to shady businessmen and respected financiers running, and often nearly ruining, a city through their hand-picked political servants. Portland only pretended it was different.'"

Pennsylvania

June 24, 2000: "'It wouldn't be a Pennsylvania election if there wasn't some controversy or alleged fraud,' said Beers, who wrote the book 'Pennsylvania Politics.' Author Jim Barcella, who wrote the book 'Dirty Politics,' said attitudes in the state are still weighted toward suspecting scandal because of the suspected fraud in the past. 'There was a time when nearly ever election in Pennsylvania was either a dirty election, or was suspected of being a dirty election because of the strength of unions to affect the process,' Barcella said."

Rhode Island

December 20, 2008: "I am personally offended by the Rod Blagojevich scandal. What offends me is that Illinois is now being called the most crooked of all states. I thought Rhode Island held that honor."

January 19, 2014: "I’ll tell you what fries me about the Chris Christie bridge scandal. No, not that his people caused nightmare traffic to punish a political enemy. It’s the price we are paying. By which I mean we in Rhode Island. Suddenly, New Jersey is getting labeled the most corrupt state. That’s our title. Pols and their cronies here have worked hard for years to earn it. How dare New Jersey try to take it away?"

South Dakota

September 17, 2004: "'Calling an opponent a witch is ridiculous and sad. South Dakotans have said numerous times they don't like dirty politics. This is very dirty,' said Ben Hanten, a pre-law student at USD and chairman of the Yankton County Democrats."

South Carolina

June 8, 2010: “We are a state of great people. We are a state of dirty politics.”

January 16, 2012: "They don't call South Carolina the home of bare-knuckle politics and dirty tricks for nothing."

Tennessee

October 10, 2013: "After nearly two decades in the state House, Rep. Charles Curtiss, D-Sparta, says he won't seek re-election next year because of increasingly 'dirty politics' in campaigns. 'I'm worried more about my spiritual conduct than I am about my political popularity,' said the Freewill Baptist Church Sunday school teacher who cited personal attacks from the Tennessee Republican Party during his 2012 reelection effort."

Texas

October 17, 2004: "With the best of intentions, some Texas lawmakers have stopped preaching and gone to meddling. They are trying to tinker with Texas' tradition of having the most unique, the most expensive and often the most ugly political campaigns in the country."

Utah

June 8, 2012: "Clark said he isn't expecting the FEC to reverse the outcome of the state Republican Party convention where delegates selected Stewart. He said he and the others want to clear their names and take a stand against corruption and dirty campaign tactics. 'We need to put an end to this,' he said. 'This is not the direction we would like Utah politics to take.'"

Vermont

May 18, 2003: "There have been some notable exceptions to what Payne calls the 'dueling teddy bears' style of Vermont politics. In the 1980s, he was an adviser to Madeleine Kunin, who won two terms as governor and always gave as good as she got, he said. ... But the most notable example of un-teddy-bear politics may be Dean himself, who several veterans of Vermont battles said can be combative, even testy on the campaign trail. "Howard Dean is not a Vermonter. He's from New York," Nelson said. 'He does not have a Vermont style, and he prides himself on that. He's less civil than previous Vermont politicans.' Republicans in Vermont are still angry at Dean for his 2000 race against Ruth Dwyer, a former legislator who had also challenged him in 1998. 'The nastiest election cycle we ever saw was in 2000,' said Skip Vallee, a Vermont Republican state committeeman. Vallee said Dean supporters removed 8,000 of the Republican's lawn signs, a classic campaign tactic in these parts."

Virginia

March 3, 2012: "Politics Gets Dirtier: Attack Ad Goes After Cat"

Washington

October 13, 2013: "Are those living in the Pacific Northwest so tainted by one party over the other that all is fair game when it comes to politics? I had thought better of Jim Ferrell, but I guess I am wrong. Looks like Federal Way, WA, is becoming a mini-Washington, D.C."

West Virginia

October 8, 2010: "I can no longer abide the notion of enabling such grasping, grubbing mediocrity. Casting a vote for either Mr. Raese or Mr. Manchin would be a confession to my children that there is nothing left of this state's civic heritage but the hollow thump of dirty politics. My vote will be a plain rejection of their hateful advertising and an unadorned disavowal of their politics of poison."

Wisconsin

January 17, 2014: "Yet another example of dirty politics in our fair state has come to light."

Wyoming

August 21, 2013: "This is dirty tricks politics at its worst," said Cheney campaign spokeswoman Celeste Colgan, in a news release. "It is sad and completely out of character with the way we run campaigns here in Wyoming to see the Enzi camp stoop to this level."

Must-reads:

"In 2014 midterms, parties see different issues and states as path to Senate majority" -- Phillip Rucker and Paul Kane, The Washington Post

"At N.J. town hall, Christie’s focus is on Sandy, not scandal" -- Robert Costa, The Washington Post

Jaime Fuller reports on national politics for "The Fix" and Post Politics. She worked previously as an associate editor at the American Prospect, a political magazine based in Washington, D.C.
Continue reading
Comments
Show Comments