No spike

Doug LaMalfa’s camp attempts unsuccessfully to urge the CN&R to not publish an embarrassing story

There have been a handful of times in my years as editor of this newspaper when a reporter has come to me while working on a story to say a source wants to “talk to the editor.” In most cases, those words mean one thing: The source wants me to spike the story.

Such was the case this week when staff writer Ken Smith handed the phone to me with Mark Spannagel, Rep. Doug LaMalfa’s chief of staff, on the line. Spannagel asked to go off the record, and I obliged him, but only after informing him that he’d have to give a compelling reason, supported by evidence, for me to eighty-six the story.

Obviously, I won’t repeat our conversation. I’ll just point you to Smith’s piece on page 10.

In short, the story is about LaMalfa’s camp sending a cease-and-desist letter to a 13-year-old constituent and budding political activist from Redding, along with his parents. In fact, Spannagel is the one who wrote the document. If his name sounds familiar, it’s likely because you’ve seen it in the CN&R.

Here’s some background: When longtime District 1 Rep. Wally Herger announced his retirement in 2012, two key North State Republicans had the clout and the money to vie for his congressional seat. One, of course, was LaMalfa of Richvale, then a state senator. The other, as you may recall, was Sam Aanestad, a former state senator from Grass Valley.

On the run-up to the primary election that year, the campaign got pretty ugly. Someone put up a website besmirching Aanestad—questioning, among other things, the legitimacy of his professional status as an oral surgeon. A disclaimer on the site attributed it to “Free Thinkers for D’Acquisto,” which, at a glance, made it appear to be the handiwork of a third Republican candidate—a Redding attorney named Michael Dacquisto. Turns out, however, that he had nothing to do with it.

Aanestad subpoenaed the Web host and found out the site’s creator was actually—drum roll—Mark Spannagel. He was LaMalfa’s chief of staff back then, too, and was working on the campaign.

LaMalfa attempted to evade any culpability by saying he knew nothing about the site’s creation, and he reportedly also said he was against dirty campaigning. But history shows otherwise.

First off, though LaMalfa downplayed Spannagel’s involvement in his campaign, he went on to hire him as his chief of staff when he got to Washington. Moreover, his team adopted similar dirty tactics during last year’s primary when the congressman squared off against another Republican, former Chicoan Joe Montes.

Any narrative that LaMalfa doesn’t sign off on such mud-slinging is ridiculous.

But back to that teenage boy. As you’ll read in the CN&R’s story, Spannagel isn’t the only one on LaMalfa’s staff who’s gone after the kid. A district representative named Brenda Lee Haynes posted some immature and inappropriate comments on his Facebook page. LaMalfa, who has a reputation for being thin-skinned and petty, apparently likes to hire folks who are just like him.

As for the congressman and his bumbling henchman, they survived the embarrassment from the Aanestad ordeal. I’m certain they’ll get over this, too.

In other news: I have to give a big shout out to everyone who made it to the CN&R’s 40th Anniversary Block Party despite the oppressive heat last Saturday. Here’s to four decades … and counting.