North Coast Journal


Issues, not rhetoric

by Judy Hodgson
Editor and publisher

In response to my gloomy political commentary of last month, I received an 80-page booklet published by Project Vote Smart, called "Voter's Self-Defense Manual." As a reporter, I'm embarrassed I didn't know about this resource sooner.

The manual presents real issues without the rhetoric, as well as information voters need to combat the sound bites on the nightly news:

"High-tech campaigns allow many candidates to measure what their different constituencies want to buy in the political marketplace. Today's candidates, backed by sophisticated surveys and polls, know the price paid or benefit gained for everything they say before they say it. As a result, they choose to move Americans emotionally rather than intellectually.

"It is easy to point our fingers and find legitimate reasons to blame all those involved for our current situation. However, the question we should be asking is, 'What can we do to get out of this mess?'"

The answer is to fight back by becoming better voters. The Vote Smart booklet tells you how.

It contains the voting record of current Congress members, sources of financial support and a nifty chart on performance evaluations by special interest groups -- from Handgun Control Inc. to the NRA. (There is also a warning that these special interest group ratings, while useful, "are biased.")

But the real potential of the Vote Smart Project is on the Internet. The website contains information on all candidates for president, Congress, state senate and assembly -- more than 20,000 individuals. It includes a biographical profile, sources of financial backing and the National Political Awareness Test, covering topics from abortion to welfare.

THE NPAT is a tough, no-wiggle questionnaire. Democratic candidate for Congress Michela Alioto answered most questions, but not the final one on her legislative priorities and how she would propose to fund them. Incumbent Frank Riggs refused to participate because he found the answer choices too restrictive.

"You can't tell people how to cut defense in 75 words," said Beau Phillips, Riggs' campaign manager.

Maybe not, but at least you could let constituents know what areas of defense spending should be increased or decreased, or whether the United States should have diplomatic relations with Cuba, or whether there should be limits on damages in medical malpractice suits, or whether the U.S. income tax should be replaced by a broad-based consumption tax.

Who has taken the NPAT and who hasn't? President Clinton declined, but you'll find position summaries culled from other sources. Bob Dole answered most questions, often in his own words. Democratic Assembly candidate Virginia Strom-Martin's answers are on-line, but her Republican opponent Margie Handley declined to participate.

Project Vote Smart was started by former politicians in search of a better way for voters to inform themselves on candidates and issues. To ensure the integrity of the project, volunteer staff and students refuse contributions from special interests. (It is financed by personal donations and money from non-corporate groups such as the Ford, Carnegie and Hearst foundations). Prominent politicians are allowed to join the board only if they are able to bring with them a political enemy. Former Presidents Carter and Ford, for instance. Former U.S. Sens. George McGovern and Barry Goldwater.

To receive the Voter's Self Defense Manual or to ask any political question you want, call 1-800-622-SMART. It's free to the public. (Reporters have their own fact-checking hotline.) The address of the website is

To join -- just because you think it's a great idea -- send a $35 check to Project Vote Smart, 129 NW 4th St., Suite 204, Corvallis, Ore. 97330. (I just did.)

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