Is the candidate forum as we know it dead? Is public interest at such a low? Or is the tried and true method of finding more out about candidates in a public setting as relevant as a VHS player?
This isn’t a rock-throwing session but rather an opportunity to rethink what we’re doing and revamp it for the upcoming general election.
Last week, the Idaho County Republicans put together a series of candidate forums for commission and state legislative positions that are contested in the upcoming May 17 primaries. Last Tuesday’s event in Grangeville netted about 30, and the subsequent two on Wednesday and Thursday gathered around 20 each. Just speaking to the Grangeville event we covered, the majority in attendance were county committee members and candidates.
That’s a poor public showing for a region as politically active and charged as Idaho County. It was a miss for voters to get to listen to these individuals, unfiltered, and open to answer the hard questions.
So what to do? Here’s something organizers can be looking at trying before fall.
Take a lesson from public agencies: What may work better for busy schedules is an open house format, say two to three hours with candidates set at stations around the room for people to visit as they choose, when they choose.
The existing forum is a time drain. It allows for everyone to hear the answer to a single question but takes several hours to adequately visit with candidates on the numerous pressing issues; time is limited to ask only a handful of submitted questions. As well, you are at the mercy of the moderator for what candidates/races go first, and on how well the moderator will keep the meeting from being overrun by dominating personalities.
Reach across party lines: From past observation, events sponsored by nonpartisan groups provide an impartial atmosphere that encourages public confidence and allows them to equally weigh the merits of candidates. This encourages a better turnout, and that would be worth the candidates’ long drives to attend.
The GOP and Democrats in the county and region are well-organized, pulling these resources together to sponsor a nonpartisan event would make for a great regional political gathering; an informative time to encourage discussion and engage community discussion.
And, perhaps the co-mingling of our red and blue neighbors is a good thing, too. We may find out there’s more that unites us than the labels and affiliations that seek to divide us.
That last reason is truly the most important one. It’s the one that should motivate us to do something different.