Politics & Other Mistakes: Don’t ask, don’t tell: version 2.0

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Allow me to state the obvious: Legislative candidates should answer all questions about their stands on important issues, whether those queries come from voters or the news media. To do otherwise makes a mockery of the democratic process by denying the public the information it needs to make informed decisions.

Now let me state the less obvious: There’s no reason for any would-be legislator to respond to the questionnaire sent out by the Lewiston Sun Journal.

The Sun Journal – a newspaper owned by Reade Brower, who also owns the Portland Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal, the Morning Sentinel, the Times Record and more than a dozen weeklies – has been in a sad state of decline for over a decade. In Lewiston-Auburn, it often ignores news angles that might upset powerful entities. Outside those cities, its coverage has become increasingly spotty. Its pages are filled with wire copy and truncated versions of stories from its sister papers. Its once-vibrant editorial page is now composed of syndicated columnists and letters from misinformed cranks.

Al DiamonSo, it’s no surprise the Sun Journal’s feeble effort to report on this year’s legislative races in the three counties it allegedly covers has been reduced to a laughable level.

You might suppose a legitimate news organization could find plenty of questions for candidates on topics of interest to its readers, such as abortion, the economy, job creation, climate change, education reform or election integrity. Instead, the Sun Journal took a different approach.

It didn’t ask about any issues at all.

Instead, it wanted to know if the candidates had hobbies. So, we learn that Republican state Rep. Randall Hall of East Dixfield likes to exhibit cattle at county fairs, Democratic Rep. Scott Landry of Farmington races homing pigeons, and New Sharon Democratic hopeful Bob Neal has season tickets to the University of Maine women’s basketball team.

The Sun Journal also asked these politicians to define “success” in fulfilling their public duties. GOP Rep. Daniel Newman of Belgrade gave a non-answer by promising to support public safety “while balancing the need for funding drug rehab.” Independent former legislator Kent Ackley of Monmouth also dodged the question by listing “local concerns,” including PFAS contamination and “Protecting Maine elections from foreign influence.” Democratic candidate Tamara Hoke of Jay is a librarian, who’ll help look up answers to constituents’ questions.

The one exception to this exercise in avoidance was South Paris Republican Rep. John Andrews, whose goal is to eradicate the deep state by eliminating the income tax and “starving [it] back into a subservient beast of burden.”

The paper also inquired about the candidates’ views on “public access to government business.” Nearly all who bothered to answer were in favor of “transparency” and “openness,” whatever that means.

At this writing, nearly as many candidates failed to respond to the Lewiston paper’s questionnaire as bothered to offer insipid answers to its worthless inquiries. In my own House district, neither of the contenders returned the form, so I now know almost exactly what I’d know if either of them had answered.

In contrast to the Sun Journal’s pointless exercise in pretending to cover local races, the Bangor Daily News seems to be making a legitimate effort to gather real information. The paper sent 10-question surveys to every House and Senate candidate in the state. It promised to print all responses verbatim.

Three dozen Republicans announced in a certified letter that they wouldn’t be participating because the paper had become “essentially nothing more than a mouthpiece for the far-left Democrat agenda.” In particular, the refuseniks objected to a question about where they stood on abortion (most of them are against it) and one on whether they thought the state voting system was secure (a lot of them believe in massive voter fraud).

The objectors claimed they would only discuss their positions directly with voters, but it’s obvious they’re only really comfortable keeping their prejudices quiet or sharing them with carefully screened audiences of like-minded conspiracy theorists.

The truth is they don’t dare to answer. Too bad they don’t all live in the Sun Journal’s circulation area, because that newspaper doesn’t dare to ask.

Respond to my outrage by emailing [email protected].

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