How to Judge A Candidate In 50 Words or Less

In the past few weeks I've gotten a lot of mail from people I don't know. They all want to know what I think about on issues that are important to them.

I am important to them because my name is on the ballot in this election season. I'm running for a seat in the Vermont House of Representatives, where if elected I'd represent 4,000 people from Milton, where I live.

The Christian opponents of abortion want me to say no abortions, no time, no way.

The Vermont chapter of the National Association for Women wants me to say the opposite.

The people who think motorcycle helmets are an infringement on their rights want me to repeal the state's helmet law. I've heard from employers who think health insurance costs too much, from advocates of campaign-finance reform, and campaigners for a "livable wage," among dozens of others.

They all send me questionnaires. Almost all of them slant the premises of their questions, or command answers that fit their agendas.

"In light of the fact that over 90 percent of head injuries due to motor-vehicle accidents happen in cars, do you feel it is fair to have mandatory helmet laws apply to motorcycles only?"

"If you don't fill out this questionnaire, we must assume you oppose the sanctity of life, and will instruct our members accordingly."

Wait a minute. Let's separate a couple of things here.

First it's nice to know what the pressure groups are going to lobby me about, should I be elected.

Second, I am not an exotic butterfly, to be pinned down under glass, and labeled according to some special interest's scale of values.

I am asking the voters in my community to "hire" me to do their business in the House. I'm telling them that I have the experience and judgment to act as their proxy on issues that affect us all.

Motorcycle helmets, the endless permutations of the abortion question, and the financing of education will all come up for votes in the coming Legislature. But all the things the special-interest groups worry about, even taken together, will form only a miniscule fraction of the legislative workload. The most challenging issues may arise during the session, and no questionnaire can anticipate how those votes will go.

So, question makers, thanks for telling me what you think. I'll tell you what I think after I see the bills, after I hear the testimony for and against, and after I assess the credibility of the witnesses and the upside/downside consequences of enactment. In the meantime, don't pin me down.

* Steve Delaney is a former host of Monitor Radio's 'Early Edition.'

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