PoliGRAPH

Democratic congressional candidate's ad could lead to false impressions

Democrat Regina Bateson is running against Republican Rep. Tom McClintock in California's 4th Congressional District.
Democrat Regina Bateson is running against Republican Rep. Tom McClintock in California's 4th Congressional District. Submitted

Democratic candidate Regina Bateson has sent a mailer to voters in the 4th congressional district touting her credentials ahead of the June 5 primary election. The mailer repeatedly refers to Bateson as a "military security analyst" and says that after Sept. 11, she worked to keep the country safe from terrorism.

Bateson is one of four Democrats running for the 4th district seat, which is currently held by Republican Rep. Tom McClintock. The district stretches from suburban Sacramento into the Sierra Nevada mountains, and includes Roseville and El Dorado Hills. Bateson and fellow Democrat Jessica Morse are locked in a contentious race to finish in the top two of the all-party primary, earning the right to advance to the general election against McClintock this fall. The district favors Republicans, but Democrats are hoping that local energy and unprecedented fundraising could spark an upset in November.

The text

"I worked abroad to keep us safe at home. With Donald Trump out of control, I’ll hold him accountable in Congress' — Democrat Regina Bateson, Military Security Analyst"

"Democrat Regina Bateson is the only candidate with the experience to STAND UP TO TRUMP when he threatens our community and our national security."

"Regina is a military security analyst who grew up middle class right here in our community. After 9/11, she joined the State Department. She worked to keep us safe from terrorism, then returned home to train our next generation of leaders."

The mailer includes a circular donkey logo that reads "Endorsed by Democrats."

Bateson flier
This is a mailer touting Democrat Regina Bateson sent to voters in California's 4th Congressional District Regina Bateson campaign

Analysis

Bateson's flyer places a distinct emphasis on national security, but it doesn't make clear that much of her security experience is as an academic, not a practitioner. Bateson is currently on unpaid leave from her job as a political science professor at MIT.

The ad, however, refers to Bateson as a "military security analyst," echoing her label on California's June ballot. In that sense, she's like many other candidates who've attempted to "game" the state's ballot designation system, as one political consultant put it, by framing their background using terms they think will appeal most to voters.

In the ballot designation worksheet Bateson submitted to the California secretary of state, she justified that ballot designation by explaining that, as a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, her "current research analyzes military and security affairs." She pointed the Bee to an academic article she wrote, published in the Journal of Peace Research in 2017, that analyzes the way the Guatemalan military socialized civilians and militias during its civil war and how that impacted post-war society. The California secretary of state's office approved her ballot designation based on that rationale.

Yale Professor Elizabeth Wood, one of Bateson's advisers when she was a doctoral student, affirmed to The Bee that Bateson's "training at Yale included military strategy." In particular, Wood said, "her dissertation research included analysis of military strategy toward civilians — a key part of modern military strategy in counterinsurgency."

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Bateson's claim that she "worked to keep us safe from terrorism" after Sept. 11 is more difficult to justify. Prior to beginning her academic career, Bateson joined the foreign service, spending nearly two years in the consular section of the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City. There is certainly a security component to that role, which includes screening visa applicants.

As the web site for the consular section of the embassy emphasizes, "We protect U.S. borders by facilitating travel for legitimate visa applicants while screening out persons who might do us harm or are otherwise ineligible." And as Bateson pointed out in remarks in a recent town hall in Truckee, Calif., U.S. officials were particularly nervous about screening for potential terrorists in the years immediately after Sept. 11.

However, three different experts on Central America told The Bee that while there have been cases of foreigners obtaining false Guatemalan passports in an attempt to travel to the United States, there is little terrorist threat emanating from the country.

Eric Olsen, an expert on security and crime in Latin America at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., noted that the State Department's annual country report on terrorism does not mention Guatemala. Nor did it in 2004. If one's definition of terrorism "includes organized crime and drug trafficking, then maybe" there's a threat from Guatemala, Olsen said. "If it refers to Islamist terrorists, then highly unlikely."

Lastly, the logo in the middle of the mailer, saying Bateson is "endorsed by Democrats," is misleading. It's true that Bateson has been endorsed by a number of local Democratic leaders, including former Roseville mayor Gina Garbolino and Roseville City Council member Scott Alvord. The California Democratic Party, however, endorsed Morse in February, while the national party has remained neutral, at least officially. While the state party uses a different logo, voters who receive the flier could easily misinterpret it as a sign of an official party endorsement.

PoliGRAPH is The Bee’s political fact checker, rating campaign advertisements and candidate claims as True, Iffy or False.

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