Monday, September 18, 2006

Pioneer Press candidate endorsement criteria

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:47 AM |  

One of my favorite (and often used) bits of political wisdom comes from a Democrat, Adlai Stevenson, who twice lost the presidency to Dwight Eisenhower. Steven said (paraphrasing from memory, here), “I need the vote of every thinking American – and a few more so I have a majority.”

On Sunday, the Pioneer Press editorial board ran an editorial that lays out the criteria it will use in making endorsements for during the upcoming elections. It’s a thinking person’s set of criteria – unlikely to be heeded by the majority. I have a few nits with it here and there, but it’s worth taking a look at.

Posted on Sun, Sep. 17, 2006
Of magic, merit and the attributes of good candidates

There is a magic to politics that goes beyond issues and positions and personality and character. Emotion, timing, pop culture and who-knows-what-else figure into the way we view the candidates parading before us.

Partisan appeal also has a magnetic and important attraction. Great movements require teamwork, discipline and commitment. Single issues can exert a similarly strong pull.

We understand that. We also understand that voters have places to go to get their fix of partisanship and single-issue stridency.
This is not that place.

At a time of vast ideological and partisan divide, we worry that the assessment of most candidates begins and ends by locating the (R), (D) or (I) next to their names on the ballot. But we here at your friendly local newspaper are in the business of trying to evaluate candidates on merit. We will be doing that again this election year, offering our humble recommendations before the general election on Nov. 7.
Instead of looking for a few good issues, or a few good partisans, we're looking for a few good candidates.

Let the cattle call begin!

Declaration of (small-i) independence. We need candidates who know who they are and do not slavishly follow interest group or party playbooks. Partisan movements matter, and politicians are constantly under pressure to deliver. But there must be limits. Interest-group pledges restrict the ability to lead. A good leader has to know how to say "no" to his or her own team.

In our perfect world, school board candidates would not be endorsed and assisted by teachers' unions, with whom they have to negotiate contracts and decide how to spend scarce education dollars, for example. Many good school board candidates are. We need to know they will stand up for taxpayers who aren't teachers as well as those who are.

Integrity. Four felony convictions of public officials in Minnesota in the last five years — three Minneapolis City Council members and one former state legislator — should be a wakeup call that Minnesota, despite its clean reputation, is as prone to avarice as anyplace else. "Public corruption is the FBI's top criminal investigative priority,'' Michael Tabman, Special Agent in charge of the Minneapolis FBI office, said last month.

Yet state officials tell us precious little about their private interests, and legislators rarely excuse themselves from voting due to a potential conflict. We can't see into everyone's heart, but the recent trend shows the need for fuller disclosure by public officials and more openness regarding meetings, schedules and communications. The public really does have a right to know.

Respect. We like vigorous debate. We are in the free-speech business and are loath to tone things down. Sometimes, personal issues are important. Candidates have to fight — otherwise, why would they be running against each other? But as with partisanship, there is a line. Candidates who flood the airwaves with incessant personal attacks or lame, emotional appeals disrespect the voters.

How much, for example, did 2nd district U.S. Rep. John Kline spend on mailings designed to link his opponent, FBI whistleblower Colleen Rowley, to an unpaid advisor's personal views on illegal drugs — views that Rowley does not agree with?

Creativity. In critical areas such as energy and health care, the U.S. government is deadlocked and is likely to remain so. New ideas will have to come from states and percolate upward. Candidates at all levels need to see themselves as part of these bigger solutions.

How can Minnesota start the ball rolling on the next big national trend — and profit from it in the bargain?

[Nit – New ideas are not always good ideas. Every “crisis” does not require government intervention. Sometimes it is proper for government to do nothing other than remove roadblocks in the way of the private sector.]
Fiscal responsibility: By which we do not mean "no new taxes." We mean honest accounting; who pays and when, who benefits and how. And a tight fist with public largesse. Candidates who offer us something for nothing — what we have been calling a "free turkey" — are again disrespecting the voters, who know the rule about free lunches.

Does anyone doubt that the bill for Iraq, new Medicare programs and years of tax cuts — now being rolled into the national debt — will not come due some day? If we had to pay for it now, we might have a better debate about costs and benefits.

Discernment: That is, the ability to tell the difference between things that matter and that government should do something about, and those that don't and aren't.
Do we really have to have a government wi-fi system, or a scorch-the-earth debate about whether government should constitutionally ban same-sex marriage? If those are our top issues, what are we missing?

Unity. In our winner-take-all system, we need candidates who have a track record of working with the other side.

Exhausted legislators from opposing sides standing at a news conference with a last-minute agreement, after months of fighting, are saying to voters: Democracy works.
We want candidates who share our passion for the success and vibrancy of our East Metro home base. We see the Central Corridor rail line down University Avenue as a critical element in that success. We embrace market forces and see duly elected government as among those forces, particularly when it comes to certain public investments that make sense — but not quick profit.
[Nit – I still can’t get my arms around the PIPress notion of government, the only entity with coerce power, as part of the market -- Central Corridor light rail a prime example. I would refer the Pioneer Press to its comments on “Discernment.”]
As we look for gutsy candidates, we're also challenging voters to shed some protective coloration and assign a higher value to the long-term health of our republic than to a temporary partisan victory or to power for its own sake.

Meantime, we'll challenge ourselves to stretch beyond our biases and beliefs in reaching for the common good, too. We're looking for candidates of merit who are willing to do the same.
[Nit – not quite sure what “stretching beyond our beliefs” means. If it means a willingness to think about things in a new way – I’m all for it. If it means denying what one’s reason tells one is true for the sake of perceived consensus – then no, I disagree.]

When it's all said and done, regardless of how one attempts to define "merit," each choice at the ballot box is a judgment call, pure and simple. That's part of the magic of politics.
So, how do readers see the various candidates stacking up?