This political campaign season – which has already seen its share of vitriolic back-and-forth, mostly from the three gubernatorial candidates – Current Publishing is taking a new direction when it comes to its candidate questionnaire.

Instead of asking several questions focused on specific issues, in coming weeks we’re asking state-level candidates one broad question: “How do you plan to make a difference for your communities if elected to the Legislature? Be specific.”

In 450 words, we’re asking our local Maine House and Senate candidates to take this opportunity to be direct with the voters and spell out what they will push for in Augusta. We’re hoping they actually say something they believe in, as well. Devoting thousands of column inches to these candidate Q&As through the years, we believe this information is a valuable service to voters, and we’re hoping the space we dedicate in the paper to these many races doesn’t go to waste, as we feel it has in the past.

It isn’t a secret that politicians are clever in their manipulation of language. Sometimes, this skill is necessary, especially when dealing with foreign adversaries, when words really matter. But we feel candidates for office too often parse their words, and the electoral process suffers as a result. A candidate questionnaire is one valuable means of speaking directly to voters. From past responses, it is clear some think of it as a nuisance and others have a campaign aide fill in the blanks. But in this sound-bite world, candidates should take advantage of this opportunity to convey their motivations for seeking office and why a voter should check off their name on the ballot.

Another reason we’re taking a different approach this year is our frustration by some candidates’ responses. They duck, dodge and distract readers/voters and manage to avoid answering the question. This was painfully clear during 2012’s hotly contested same-sex marriage referendum, which passed statewide, when we asked candidates how they felt on the issue. Our question was: “Do you support same-sex marriage? Please explain your position.” After posing such a direct question, we were expecting clear answers since it’s pretty hard to waffle on such a core principle. However, in retrospect, we shouldn’t have been so surprised that candidates could avoid a direct answer even on this most black and white of issues. The following “answer” from a House candidate, who will remain anonymous, proves the point: “This is an issue that truly needs to be solved by the vote of the people in the November referendum. Personally I will support the results of the votes. I know people who are passionate on both sides of the question, however it is an issue that does not affect my lifestyle.”

This sort of answer, while seemingly respectful of all constituencies, doesn’t help the voter at all. Yes, the candidate has managed to avoid alienating both sides, but that’s not the point. The point is to let voters know what they believe and how they will act in office.

Some candidates, we feel, forget why they have been sent to Augusta soon after they arrive. They get caught up in the free meals in the rotunda, the photo ops and maybe even the fancy license plate. And how a candidate answers the questionnaire is probably a good tip-off to how the candidate will approach the jog. Any candidate who doesn’t want to answer these most simple of questions doesn’t belong in office. Also, by not answering clearly, the candidates sabotage their potential mandate from voters. When candidates spell out what they will do in office, and are elected, they have license to pursue those previously stated goals. They have a mandate. When they’re not clear and avoid spelling out their goals prior to the election, the process is stunted, and voters really have no clue as to how to vote. And any mandate is dashed.

We respect those candidates who speak up for what they believe in. We respect it when they tell voters what they will do in office. When they don’t reveal their intentions, and run on mushy and blurry promises and feel-good phrases (like “hope and change,” for a recent example) but don’t spell out exactly what they mean, both voters and candidates suffer.

So, candidates, please, tell voters how you feel, what you think is important and how you actually will make a difference for them. If you can’t explain your views before an election – before you’re in office and expected to lead – that’s a pretty good indication you will waffle and give us platitudes when tragedy or difficult times come. They say words aren’t actions, but when it comes to politics, words translate into policies, which then become actions. Words are important, so make them count. Even in a newspaper questionnaire.

–John Balentine, managing editor


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