August 23 was a great opportunity for voters in East Greenwich and West Greenwich to see their prospective state representatives up close and personal.
The 100-plus audience that took advantage of was treated to a discussion of many of the things voters will be helping decide on Election Day – economic development, unfunded state mandates, water resource development, gay marriage, among others. And they got a chance to see and hear the candidates in person, always an important element in deciding who gets one’s vote.
These were all relatively "new" candidates, and none of have ever held elective office. But I came away from the evening disappointed over the lack of specifics that emerged. Part of that was the result of the debate format, and the limited amount of time available took a toll. It wasn’t everyone, and it wasn’t all the time. But a sizeable chunk of responses tended to treat feelings and reactions as facts, without having to provide any evidence of truth or fiction. There was also a tendency to suggest strong, daring action without also detailing what happens or should be done in its wake. We can’t just "throw away" the EDC, for example, without putting something in its place – economic development is something I suspect we can all agree is important, or ought to be.
Specifics are important, and candidates flee them because they don’t know any more than a headline or because they don’t want to get tied down and see their options disappear. But without specifics, all we get is bloviating – lots of heat, and very little light. We are owed more than this by candidates to elective office, and we ought to demand more. But that means we need to step into the conversation, and not simply listen courteously and nod our heads.
The primary election is around the corner, on Sept. 11, and the general election is Nov. 6. Leading up to these events, it’s not unlikely that one or more candidates will come knocking at your door, wanting to shake your hand and tell you a little about themselves and what they "believe."
Don’t let this be a one-way conversation. Look them in the eye, ask them where they stand on the issue or issues that most concern you. Question their first response, and ask them to dig deeper and be more specific. Don’t let them leave your door feeling untested. And don’t let them leave you unsatisfied; it may be the only chance you have to see them in person.
There is ample complaining about politics these days. But it’s not just candidates who lower the bar and skew the conversation. We all contribute by staying away, staying unengaged and not demanding more when the opportunity arises.
What’s your excuse? And what are you willing to do to change the way things are done on your porch?