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Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016 12:01 am

‘Weaponized misogyny’ used against Rep. Bourne

PHOTO BY ALAN SOLOMON/TNS
The innocuous-looking mailer began arriving last Wednesday.

Whoever sent it used plain, manila envelopes with first-class postage. Usually campaigns use bulk mail, but those have permit numbers, making them traceable. First-class mail isn’t so easily traceable.

There was no return address on the envelopes. Whoever sent it used pre-printed address labels. The letters were addressed to a generic “Registered Voter” recipient.

Inside was a picture printed on somewhat expensive photo stock paper.

“Got Avery?” was the headline above a poorly edited picture of state Rep. Avery Bourne’s (R-Raymond) head on someone else’s nude body.

It was probably the vilest thing to happen during a legislative campaign that I’ve seen in all the years I’ve been doing this. And that’s a lot of years writing about a lot of vile muck.

Stamped on the back of the photo was a date of Oct. 7 – which likely shows that this mailer had been planned for quite some time, and could provide investigators with a clue about where it was produced and maybe even who did it.

As I write this before the election, the mailer hadn’t been widely sent, perhaps because of the cost of both the postage and the paper. But its distribution wasn’t confined to Bourne’s downstate district. The first to report receiving it last Wednesday was an official at the Sangamon County Farm Bureau, which is north of Bourne’s district. The Farm Bureau quickly notified Bourne and she went over there to pick it up.

But others saw it in their mailboxes that day, too. Bourne’s Democratic opponent Mike Mathis was called by high-level House Democratic staff after somebody forwarded it to them. Mathis called Bourne Wednesday evening to express his shock and to deny all involvement.

Rep. Bourne told me last week that many of her campaign contributors got the piece, suggesting that the culprit or culprits used publicly available information. The state police told her that her endorsement list could’ve been used as well. But the Sangamon County Farm Bureau and some others who received the mailer aren’t involved in her race.

Bourne’s grandmother and great-grandmother both received the mailer. They were, of course, appalled.

A friend of Bourne’s opponent also received the mailer, even though the guy, I’m told, isn’t at all involved in politics.

The immediate, private reaction from the top on both sides was to blame the other side. Was it a “false flag” operation or an incredibly dirty Democratic trick?

But that speculation was probably ludicrous, and eventually everybody calmed down enough to admit it. The Republicans wouldn’t ever do something as disgusting as publicly humiliate the youngest woman in the House like that (or any of their female candidates, for that matter). And the Democrats aren’t stupidly insane enough to put their own candidate at risk by doing something that despicable to Bourne.

So, both sides’ initial reactions seemed to be more about self-preservation during the inevitable finger-pointing than sober judgment.

If I had to guess, I’d say the culprit (or culprits) is likely some local weirdo (or weirdos) with an ax to grind who has just enough political knowledge and experience to make him or her dangerous.

Unfortunately, there are more than a few of those types out there in our current age of weaponized misogyny. You don’t have to spend much time on Twitter or Facebook to see this type of behavior. But posting an edited picture on Twitter takes very little effort. These envelopes were likely stuffed, labeled and stamped individually by hand. That takes time and, to me, makes this even creepier.

Whether that person simply wanted to hurt Bourne or damage Mathis’ campaign – or possibly do both things at once – is something we might never know. But I gotta figure that anyone who is this loathsome to go to all this trouble will want to brag about it and/or was stupid enough to leave a clue here and there. The fact that the letter was apparently sent to one of Mathis’ nonpolitical friends means whoever did this has some local knowledge.

Mathis, for his part, did all he could to strenuously deny his involvement and denounce the mailer. He even showed up for Bourne’s press conference last Thursday to show his solidarity. He did the right thing by a woman who was horribly wronged.

But right or wrong, the opponent usually gets the blame for this stuff in voters’ minds.

What a truly awful way to end one of the foulest campaign seasons ever.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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