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What to do when the candidates won't answer your questions

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Message Alfred Krass
By Alfred Krass,
Coordinator for Bucks and Montgomery Counties (PA)
Coalition for Peace Action

"It must be something in the water," my friend Gus would have said. He used that excuse anytime something happened for which he could find no explanation.

Well, something must be in the water in Bucks County, because neither Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick nor his Democratic opponent Patrick Murphy would answer our Coalition for Peace Action candidate questionnaire this time around. Murphy answered his-after a bit of prompting-during the run-up to the primaries. Fitzpatrick answered his when he first ran in 2004. But this time we can't get a yes, no, or "the questionnaire is in the mail" from either of them. We sent them questions like, "Will you support a policy of no permanent US military bases in Iraq?" and "Will you oppose "threatening or taking military action against Iran or North Korea except as a last resort, and only if specifically authorized by the U.S. Congress and the U.N.?"

Now Murphy's ads say he is committed to "a U.S. exit strategy and timetable to remove U.S. troops from Iraq as soon as feasible" (our words) and he even goes farther, telling what the timetable should be, but he won't answer that question on our questionnaire. And Fitzpatrick for the last week has been styling himself as a candidate who opposes "both extremes"-the extremes of George Bush's policies in Iraq and the "other extreme" extreme of people like us who want an end to the war, but he won't answer our questions.

We were used to getting turndowns from would-be Senator Bob Casey, Jr. His office had never even returned a phonecall. But that an announcedly "anti-War" candidate like ex-Iraq soldier Murphy, who has lined up behind Rep. John Murtha's call for "redeployment" of our troops, would not be willing to sign a questionnaire this time-we'll that's a "puzzlement."

But Project Vote Smart-a centrist organization if ever there was one-- says it's the done thing this year-or rather, the not-done thing. "71% of Pennsylvania candidates for state and federal office refused to answer questions on issues of top concern to Pennsylvania voters this year," the organization-- which was founded by people like Jimmy Carter, Geraldine Ferraro, John McCain, and Gerald Ford-- reports. In the 2004 election 72% returned their questionnaires.

They inquired why and found-and in some cases were told by the responsible individuals-that party leaders and consultants from both major parties are advising candidates not to respond to questionnaires. Why? It will "limit the candidates' ability to control their campaign messages, and it will expose them to opposition research." Project Vote Smart counters that, "their refusal to answer balanced, fair-minded questions on key issues strips citizens of the information most crucial in a democracy."

Now we in the Coalition for Peace Action don't argue that our 14 questions are "balanced." No, they are questions from citizens anxious to see the U.S. turn from unilateral cowboy adventurism to responsible foreign and military policies and, here at home, to sensible policies on gun issues.. That we can't get answers from these candidates makes us wonder what purpose our traditional strong advocacy for high voter registration efforts and "get out the vote" campaigns can serve.
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Al Krass coordinates the work of the Coalition for Peace Action in Bucks and Montgomery Counties. A formed United Church of Christ minister, he lives in Levittown PA.
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