Elections are about talking to people. They should not be about pandering nor about making empty promises, but dialogue and give and take are definitely part of the deal. And taking a stance is part of the deal too -- voters should know what they are getting. I reflected on that as I completed interviews with two different, and I mean different, interest groups: the San Mateo Labor Council and the San Mateo County Association of Realtors (SAMCAR). This blog post will address interest groups, and my next one will be about talking to individual voters.
First, I appreciate both these groups -- and ones in the future like the Sierra Club -- taking the time to meet with candidates. Sure, they are vetting them, looking them over, deciding whether the candidate is likely to advance the interests of their members and are worth an endorsement. But these men and women are spending a lot of after-work time with officials and challengers, either in batches or one at a time, and no one makes them do it or, Lord knows, compensates them for doing this. It is all about what I call "doing democracy." And I think we as candidates therefore owe them the courtesy and respect of showing up to answer their questions. This is what I mean about doing democracy -- not just talking about it, but showing up and doing it.
I won't bore you with details but I will share that the questions are sometimes longer than our answers! The interviewers usually their comments with a question mark, but there can be a LOT of "explanation" ahead of time. Some might call it lobbying, others might call it education, whatever, the questions can be lengthy and pointed. Our answers are sometimes timed (you get surprisingly good at knowing when a minute is coming up) or sometimes more in a conversational style.
Of course, the questions reflect the interests of the group. The Labor Council wants us to understand the importance of "card checks" and know where we stand, the Realtors want us to know why point of sale requirements are bad, for example. Some questions I just did not know enough in which case, I tried to tell folks how I would think about the issue if confronted by it, what values I would use in assessing pros/cons.
What I appreciated in the margins afterwards -- and this happened after both sets of interviews -- is a comment from a participant along the lines of, "we don't expect to agree on everything, and we appreciated your candor." As you can tell, there was no pandering here, but there was an honest dialogue and, because we generally want similar things -- stronger communities, better wages, respect for property rights, need for affordable housing -- we can find a lot more common ground than issues that divide us.
You just have to look and listen and be honest. That's doing democracy the right way.