A note to candidates for state and federal offices in November: The Utah League of Women Voters is asking tough questions and it wants answers now.
After a hiatus of a few years, the nonpartisan league is resurrecting its voter's guide, which should be available at its online site on Sept. 1. It had discontinued it because so many candidates just wouldn't answer the questions.
This time, the gloves are off. If the candidate doesn't respond, the league will make a point by noting it in the guide.
"A nonanswer is an answer," says Jenn Gonnelly, a co-legislative director who worked on the questions.
One candidate emailed to say if anyone wanted to know about him, the answers would be in his roughly 1,000 votes and his blog. Another told her the questions were too hard.
"That email will be in the voter's guide," she says. "We stand by the questions. If they're hard, shouldn't we as voters ask them before the vote?"
For example, gubernatorial candidates will be asked about their plans to balance Utah's economic development with air quality and water scarcity. What's a governor's role in creating a world-class educational system? How about providing all Utahns with health care? The state's role in immigration?
To the would-be lieutenant governor, "What will you do to improve Utah's dismal voter turnout?"
Legislative candidates will also be asked the education question, as well as about the advantages/disadvantages of demanding the U.S. government turn over federal lands to Utah. And, given the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on the Affordable Care Act, what will lawmakers do to ensure adequate health care for all Utahns?"
Again, what about immigration and clean air?
I can see the attorney general candidates blanching at this one: "What solutions do you see to pursue fraud and abuse charges such as payday lending, identity theft, polygamist sects, Medicare/Medicaid, and/or affinity fraud?
Those seeking to become state auditor and treasurer are asked why their target offices are important to the average Utah citizen, and why they're uniquely qualified for them.
Congressional candidates will have to say whether they believe in quality education for all children, regardless of their economic status. What's the proper role of corporations in American elections? How would you balance the cost of the military with the cost of domestic needs?
What about health care, vis-a-vis the ACA, and what should the feds do to assure a healthy environment for children?
Gonnelly says some candidates will say they're on task forces to figure that out, but that's not what the league is after.
"We're not asking for a solution, but for an opinion," she says. "This is politics, and how you feel colors your votes."
I certainly hope that a sizable number of candidates will respond honestly, but that's probably asking too much. Politics has always been a dance around the May pole but never like it is now.
It's rare to hear most politicians give a straight answer to a straight question. When they do, they want it off the record. Preening before the microphone and camera has become an deflective art form.
Still, hats off to the league for trying. For Utah voters, it's always been a rich source of information and a "lovely behemoth of research" for Utah voters, as Gonnelly put it.
So, candidates, go on. Surprise me.
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter, @pegmcentee.