We Do Candidate Forums!
Our vision is to increase participation in the election process, especially on the part of citizen candidates. There are many facets to this vision, a very important one being to make the process more accessible to novice candidates. A huge stumbling block to uninitiated candidates is the so called candidate forum as it is conducted in Clallam and Jefferson Counites. The dictionary definition of forum includes the concept of "open discussion or expression of ideas" as opposed to the term debate which entails a "contention by words or arguments".
The public has a need to know the ideas that a new candidate brings to the table. No public service is achieved subjecting that candidate's ideas to contention by word or argument. Most candidate forums sponsored by various groups exhibit the following deficiencies:
1 The Moderator has too much control over the questions being asked of the candidates which often colors the nature of questions asked and answers allowed.
2 Audience generated questions tend to lack relevance to the office being sought, and are often framed as "got-chas" or asked in a matter in which the only answer is embedded in the question.
3 Candidates are given insufficient time to answer the posed question. In one case, in which candidates were given one minute to answer, an audience generated question took over a minute to formulate.
4 Many forums are restricted to membership in a particular club or organization and/or prohibitions are placed on press participation or independent taping.
The Independent Advisory Association strived to develop a protocol for a forum which would coincide with the true definition and spirit of forum, serving both the public's need to know and the candidate's responsibility to make known without contention by words or arguments and without being the candidate's "death valley":
1 No targeted questions. - All questions are asked of all candidates in the same manner.
2 Questions provided in advance. - The objective of the forum should be to learn of the candidate's knowledge, beliefs and core values, not how fast on he/she may be on their feet.
3 Adequate time to answer. - We currntly allow 2 1/2 minutes for candidate responses based on our experience in conducting forums in which 2 1/2 minutes was generally adequate while less was insufficient to frame a proper answer.
4 No questions from the audience. - Our goal here is not to punish the audience but to take the Moderator out of the loop. The biggest vulnerability for appearance of bias lies in the Moderator. A Moderator's ability to pick and choose questions from those submitted by the audience and to interpret those questions can lead to charges of partisanship.