Editorial: Gaither handled defeat the right way

Jul. 20, 2014 @ 01:43 AM

Give District Attorney Jay Gaither credit for this: When it became obvious Tuesday that he was going to lose badly in the Republican runoff, the last gasp in his attempt for a fourth term, he did what politicians are supposed to do when they lose – he took the high road.

Election campaigns have to draw sharp lines and point out opponents’ flaws – why are you running, after all, if you think the other fellow is doing just fine? – and at times it can seem personal. How could it not? If someone says you stink at your job, it’s going to hurt. “Politics ain’t beanbag,” as the saying goes.

That sting of personal rebuke probably takes a while to fade, but once the votes are cast there is nothing to be gained by appearing to hold a grudge. In fact, being negative can set bridges on fire and come back to hurt future endeavors, especially any future in politics.

Gaither recognized this. He made a cordial call to his opponent, David Learner, and in an interview with the News-Topic he said good things about him. Learner and the people of the 25th District are well served by Gaither's actions.

In an interview Wednesday, Gaither didn't include elected politics among the things he would be interested in pursuing after his term ends in December. That may change with time, but how much of a path he would have for its may hinge on the outcome of the sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him by a former subordinate, Whitney Nicole Shaffer.

Whatever his defenders think of the motivations behind the lawsuit, the only apparent way Gaither’s on-the-record comments about the suit, that it was filed as retaliation for him firing Shaffer, can square with the allegations is if the entire fabric of the text messages he is accused of sending are fiction. It would take some moderate skill as a fiction writer to create such internally consistent dialog over so many pages, arguably a more difficult task than creating fake texts. Many of the texts are innocuous in content, but the dates on them were after the period that Gaither says he decided to fire Shaffer, so their tone makes no sense as exchanges in a tense, doomed work relationship.

Presumably, the lawsuit will not be dropped now that Gaither has lost. If it is, that would make it an expensive but also personally costly political maneuver – Shaffer, who still works as an assistant prosecutor, would find her future employment opportunities sharply curtailed, and she might find that even if she wins the suit.

We may be well into Learner’s four-year term before the lawsuit runs its course. If Gaither were to be vindicated, and perhaps if Learner proved not to be up to handling the job, might Gaither try to regain his office? His grace in defeat Tuesday at least means he hasn’t burned any bridges that he would need to make a return.