Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance
Press Release

The August Primary Could Be Your Only Chance to Choose

With their mudslinging and vacuous ads, primary elections can be frustrating for voters, especially this year with the date moving from September to August.

By - Aug 1st, 2012 04:23 pm

With their mudslinging and vacuous ads, primary elections can be frustrating for voters, especially this year with the date moving from September to August.

Yet, primaries can be all important, for the winner is often guaranteed election. In more than a quarter of state legislative districts, for example, there is no November contest or only a token one.

Since primary candidates share a party label, they often vary little on issues. They often seek to differentiate themselves on superficial grounds by attacking each other, inventing issues, or stockpiling irrelevant endorsements.

How, then, is a primary voter to make an intelligent, informed choice?

The best way is to talk to a candidate. Look past generalizations and evasive answers. Ask probing questions, such as these . . .

How have you served your community—beyond running for office, or being active in a political party or interest group? A useful mix might include service clubs, civic organizations, or volunteer work for a school, church, or charity

What is your job experience? Substantive work in finance, health care, agriculture, law, or business provides perspectives the legislature needs but often lacks. Political internships, Capitol staff jobs, and lobbying work are the most common backgrounds of today’s state and national politicians.

Prior government experience is not a prerequisite, but what evidence do you provide of dedicated service, elected or unelected, at the municipal, school, or county level? This is the kind of involvement that suggests sincere commitment, as opposed to short-term resume building aimed at advancing a political career.

How widespread is your support — geographically, professionally, and philosophically? Amassing endorsements is easy for candidates connected to a single party or interest group. It signals acceptance by a limited part of the political spectrum but says little about a candidate’s ability to build coalitions or seek advice from diverse constituencies. These are the kind of credentials that eventually separate a legislative workhorse from a political show horse.

Issue positions in candidate advertising are particularly misleading. Are they limited to slogans, such as “support schools,” “create jobs,” “protect the environment,” or “cut red tape”? Or, do they demonstrate keen insight and an appreciation for complexity?

What kind of campaign is a candidate waging? The answer provides clues to how she will govern after the election. Does he attack opponents but say little about his own talents and ideas? Is the campaign mechanical and textbook, suggesting behind-the-scenes orchestration from a consultant or party machine? Or, does it exhibit creativity and unconventional thinking that reflect a candidate’s personality?

Finally, ask the obvious: Why are you running? If it lacks sincerity, credibility, or specificity, it says something about candidate character and motivation. And that may matter most of all.

By Todd A. Berry, President, Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance

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