Issue April 1, 2008

News Xtra: Can candidates help voters get smart?

It is such a simple question — “Are you willing to tell citizens your stance on issues you will likely face if elected?” — but in the blood sport of elective politics, where expediency trumps principle, what seems simple is often viewed as suicidal. Why be candid when the current system — including a huge dose of voter apathy — makes it so easy to obfuscate and deceive?

Project Vote Smart is a non-profit, nonpartisan national library of factual information on more than 40,000 candidates and elected officials from the federal, state and local levels. It began in 1992 with help from leaders like Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, Barry Goldwater and George McGovern, Newt Gingrich and Geraldine Ferraro. In other words, some strange political bedfellows.

Each election cycle, Project Vote Smart (www.votesmart.org) contacts candidates and asks them that question. Those who answer in the affirmative get a more detailed survey called the Political Courage Test. Candidates may skip up to 30 percent of the questions and may answer in their own words.

In Kentucky, participation by state legislators has steadily declined, from 39 percent in 1996 to 20 percent in 2006. Kentucky congressional candidates have done better — peaking at 61 percent in 2000 — but that figure dropped to 40 percent two years ago.

“We have heard a variety of reasons for not responding to the test,” says Mike Wessler of Project Vote Smart. “Most candidates cite advice from their political parties, who tell candidates not to respond to questions about issue positions. We even heard from one campaign, ‘It’s not our job to educate, it’s our job to win.’”

That’s where you come in. Contact candidates and ask them if they have any political courage. The response deadline is April 16. They’ll know what to do.

Gore TV: Speaking of strange bedfellows, the TV airwaves will soon be peppered with slick ad spots meant to bring attention to global warming. The campaign is led by Al and Tipper Gore. One spot shows the Revs. Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson attesting that they don’t agree on anything — except that we all have to get busy on the global warming issue. —Cary Stemle