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Opinion >  Column

Sue Lani Madsen: Candidate questionnaires bear sour grapes

Sue Lani Madsen, an architect and rancher, writes a weekly column. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Sue Lani Madsen, an architect and rancher, writes a weekly column. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Candidates are deluged with a multitude of questionnaires, even if they aren’t seeking an endorsement. The surveys can range from a few broad questions to pages of detailed policy interrogation. Selecting which ones to respond to and which to ignore is a matter of time and philosophy.

“They all want to share who they are, and I’m not going to shut out any group,” said Cindy Wendle, candidate for Spokane City Council president. “All you can do is watch your email and try to keep up.”

“If it’s something I can do and get it in on time, I will,” said Karen Stratton, incumbent candidate for Spokane City Council District 3. Stratton said she knew she was late on the Washington Conservation Voters and had skipped the We Believe We Vote survey.

“We try to be nonpartisan,” said Peggy Paullin, executive director of We Believe We Vote.

This year the board was short on volunteers to cover the large crop of candidates and decided to move to a more objective format. For the first time, it held no interviews and made no endorsements. Candidates were sent 10 issues using Survey Monkey and “we published their percentage of alignment with WBWV core issues,” Paullin said.

Even that simple format had pitfalls.

Spokane mayoral candidate Ben Stuckart asked that his response be withdrawn from the website after an immigration question fired up controversy.

“Anybody who sends me a questionnaire, I try to fill it out, but I decided I couldn’t participate after a complete miscommunication over what the question was,” Stuckart said. After Stuckart withdrew the response, Paullin had to clarify that he hadn’t withdrawn from the race.

The Spokane Association of Realtors still invests time in face-to-face interviews. That required a dozen volunteers and three full days for the 2019 primary. The group understands it has a range of political viewpoints in its membership.

“We don’t get into any issues outside of real estate,” according to Tom Hormel, a Spokane Realtor who serves on the government affairs committee.

Broad-based industry groups tend to be cautious about risking future working relationships. Caution usually gives incumbents an edge.

In Spokane’s mayoral race without an incumbent, only Stuckart, Nadine Woodward and Kelly Cruz responded to the interview invitation from the local Realtors. The endorsement went to Woodward.

All four candidates for council president interviewed with the Spokane Association of Realtors. The endorsement was offered to Wendle, who has a background in property management. Mike Fagan and Phillip Tyler let it go and moved on.

“I appreciated they were accommodating to my work schedule,” Tyler said. “When they emailed their decision, I replied to thank them for their time.”

Breean Beggs’ campaign went with the sour-grapes strategy. Just a “Western Washington group,” an “out of town PAC” and an “interest group from the other side of the state” was the reaction posted on his Facebook campaign page after the notification. Beggs did not return a call for comment.

The Realtors’ endorsement and support decisions were made locally.

“We aren’t a west-side group, even though donations go through the statewide organization to comply with the Public Disclosure Commission,” Hormel said.

Incumbents usually have an edge in name recognition and business endorsements, but not this year from the Realtors. In the six-way race for incumbent Stratton’s District 3 seat, the Spokane Association of Realtors endorsed challenger Andy Rathbun after also interviewing Stratton, Jeff Martin and Christopher Savage. All three candidates for Spokane Council District 2 – Liz Fleming, Tony Kiepe and incumbent Lori Kinnear – accepted the invitation to interview, but the association declined to make any endorsement.

For Woodward, Rathbun and Wendle, the Spokane Association of Realtors’ endorsements earned independent expenditure support. When he found out through the PDC there would be a mailing on Rathbun’s behalf, “all we could do is wait and see if it was on message,” said Jim Hedemark, manager of the Friends of Andy Rathbun campaign.

Hedemark said he was relieved to see a positive piece highlighting Rathbun instead of knocking his opponents.

With all those mailers and surveys and questionnaires, there’s no excuse to be an uninformed voter. Find your trusted source, check it against another source, and fill out that ballot.

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