Family Plays a Large Role in Election Campaigns

The first lady of Arkansas relishes politics so much that she's running for secretary of state on her husband's ticket. Family ties are more frayed in Connecticut, where the mother and siblings of state Rep. Dennis Cleary have taken out a newspaper ad urging his defeat.

While weighty issues dominate the congressional campaign scene, not all is somber or staid on the state and local election front as Nov. 5 approaches.

A professional Elvis impersonator, Bruce Borders, is a Republican candidate for state representative in Indiana. In Berkeley, Calif., voters will decide on a ballot initiative requiring coffee houses to sell environmentally and politically correct brews. Oregon's last dry town, Monmouth, will decide whether to go wet.

Among the distinctive candidates are several asking for voters' trust despite past brushes with the law.

The Missouri state auditor's race features Republican Al Hanson, a former commodities trader and tire dealer who served nine months in prison after a 1978 felony conviction for consumer fraud. The state GOP has disavowed him.

Bob Newland, Libertarian candidate in a three-way race for South Dakota attorney general, has seen how law enforcement works on many occasions. He's been arrested or charged 26 times since 1988 for infractions ranging from tax evasion to possessing a loaded gun while intoxicated.

Former Alabama Gov. Guy Hunt was ousted from office in 1993 when convicted on an ethics charge. Pardon and parole officials restored his rights; now he's running for state Senate.

Arkansas' first couple, Republicans Mike and Janet Huckabee, are putting their marriage to an unusual test — he's seeking re-election as governor while his wife tries for secretary of state.

The Huckabees foresee no legal or ethical problems from having spouses in statewide offices; others, especially Democrats, aren't so sure. Recent polls showed the governor leading his race by about 10 percentage points, while his wife trailed her little-known opponent by more than 20 percentage points.

Marital politics also has surfaced in Colorado, where a former town councilor from Avon published a newspaper ad showing two of his council rivals in bed together. Those two councilors are husband and wife, but that's precisely why Rick Cuny is upset — he claims Debbie and Pete Buckley vote the same way too often and seek to dominate the six-member council.

"Do you really want 33 percent of your votes coming from one bedroom?'' asks the ad, which opposes Debbie Buckley's re-election. Her husband has two years left on his term.

Debbie Buckley, who differed with her husband in seven of 13 non-unanimous votes this year, says the ad is offensive.

"This isn't the 1950s,'' she said. "Most women I know are pretty independent.''

For election-inspired family squabbles, the Cleary clan of Southington, Conn., sets a standard that's tough to match.

Republican Dennis Cleary is seeking a sixth term in the General Assembly, but relatives have taken out a newspaper ad and planted signs on their lawns supporting his opponent.

"We are tired of Dennis,'' says the ad. "Are you?''

Jude Cleary, a brother of the legislator, said family members consider Dennis self-serving — a resentment stemming from disagreement over Dennis' handling of his father's estate.

"There have been sibling rivalries since Cain and Abel,'' retorted Dennis Cleary. "Anyone with integrity and maturity would keep it within the family.''

Scores of ballot items await voters, many on arcane subjects with eye-glazing wording. In two municipalities, however, ballot proposals address a genuine consumer concern — what sort of beverages can be sold.

—In Berkeley, a proposed law would make it a crime punishable by up to six months in jail to sell brewed coffee not certified as Fair Trade, organic or shade-grown. Fair Trade means farmers are assured equitable prices; shade-grown coffee is grown under trees that provide bird habitat and protect soil.

Mayor Shirley Dean likes the Fair Trade concept, but questions imposing it on businesses. "Who's going to enforce this?'' she asked. "I can't believe anybody would be sent to jail.''

—In Monmouth, which has banned liquor sales for nearly 150 years, voters will decide whether to remain Oregon's only dry town or allow wine and beer sales.

Monmouth is home to Western Oregon University, and one-third of the 7,700 residents are in their 20s. "Why have a law everyone breaks anyway?'' wondered Travis Dutcher, an 18-year-old student from Alaska.