Andy Shaw: Playing dodge ball in candidate questionnaires
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
After the recent Town Hall debate, commentators mentioned Donald Trump standing near Hillary Clinton as she spoke, calling it “lurking” or “looming.”
Debates feature positioning of all sorts: Where you stand on issues and on the stage — relative to the audience, and your opponent.
You can witness Olympic-level sidestepping — candidates answering the questions they want to be asked, not the ones moderators ask.
We noticed the same phenomena in print form when the Better Government Association and Reboot Illinois asked candidates for U.S. Senate and State Comptroller to spell out their positions on important issues.
They all responded to our 2016 Questionnaire, but some inquiries were deftly sidestepped and others never got answered.
For instance, we asked the Senate candidates about political polarization and Congressional dysfunction: “What will you propose to improve how Congress functions?”
Republican Mark Kirk discussed his history of centrist, non-partisan independence. Democrat Tammy Duckworth cited her commitment to compromise and bipartisanship. But nothing from either on how to “jumpstart a working Congress” or “improve how Congress functions.”
Green Party candidate Scott Summers was more specific, suggesting line-item veto power for the president, phasing out filibusters and giving House members four-year terms, not two.
Another question cited “public discourse…increasingly coarsened by inflammatory comments, candidate accusations and more.”
We asked about regrets over comments they’ve made or how they’ve campaigned in this election.
Contrition from Sen. Kirk for referring to President Obama as “drug dealer in chief?” Or Rep. Duckworth for calling Kirk “unhinged?”
Nope. We’re good as is, they implied.
Admitting you’re wrong may not change anything, but it’s worth considering as an indication of self-awareness or character.
Some answers reveal clear differences. Duckworth, for example, favors overturning the Citizens United campaign finance decision. Kirk doesn’t.
Duckworth opposes voter ID laws, calling them “red herrings designed to disproportionately disenfranchise the poor.” Kirk says it’s a state-by-state issue but he’s glad Illinois hasn’t imposed them.
Their main considerations in assessing Supreme Court nominees:
Kirk says military and constitutional issues.
Duckworth stresses civil liberties and organized labor.
In the Comptroller’s race we asked if the candidates favor abolishing the office they’re running for. The late comptroller Judy Baar Topinka supported a merger with the Treasurer’s office to save money.
Merge ‘em, says GOP incumbent Leslie Munger. Democratic challenger Susana Mendoza hedges. She’s “not opposed to consolidation” but supports “the concepts behind the creation of the (separate) Comptroller’s Office.”
Libertarian Claire Ball opposes consolidation and Green Party candidate Tim Curtin supports it.
Most of the interest in this office centers on the question of who gets paid and who doesn’t when state coffers run dry, even though 89 percent of the state budget is obligated by court decrees, debt service and the like.
Munger says after “first-in-first-out” bill payments, her approach is “to ensure that human services and small businesses are priorities if they are on the verge of slashing services or closing their doors because of payment delays.”
Mendoza’s similar guiding principle after first-in-first-out is to prioritize or accelerate payments to social service agencies, nonprofits and other vulnerable citizens and providers.
They both emphasize that paying Springfield lawmakers is the lowest priority.
All the candidates in the questionnaire have much more to say that’s worth reading. Some differences are subtle, others striking, and overall they paint an interesting picture of where these hopefuls stand, and where they sidestep, redirect or duck.
It’s not as dramatic as the St. Louis presidential debate, but the positioning is worth noting and considering before you vote.
Andy Shaw is President & CEO of the Better Government Association.
Follow Andy Shaw on Twitter: Follow @Andyshawbga