If you think about it, you already know the answer.
As the primary season begins, we are inundated with communications from candidates. If you have been active politically, it is worse. If you have actually contributed to a party or a candidate, your contact information gets around and everyone has their hand out. As I wrote last time, every politician is going to tell you what they think you want to hear.
How do you tell who the sincere ones are? It is amazing how many new-found conservatives are running for office. In Colorado, Sen. Mark Udall, who votes in lockstep with Barack Obama and Harry Reid, wants you to know he’s a conservative. People whose voting record says otherwise want you to believe they’re “Constitutional conservatives.” Regardless what the establishment in both parties say publically, these are signs that the Tea Party movement has had an impact.
Cutting through the fog
Again the question: what’s a concerned citizen to do? Listening to pundits and politicians is probably unavoidable but do listen with a trained and critical ear. That’s just the start of being active, not the end. Listening to political speeches is one step above listening to the pundits—but not a very big step.
The Founders thought that local government was best—that the farther removed government was from the people, the less responsive it would be. Current polling suggests that the majority of Americans still believe that to be true.
At the writing of the Constitution, representation in the new House of Representatives was set at approximately one per 40,000 voters. In the Colorado House, that ratio is still true today. Yet most people don’t even know who their local House representative is.
Know the people you are voting for. At the local and state level, that’s not hard to do. Don’t just listen to what they say but watch how they act. Find out who their friends are. Why is it the left tried to hide Barack Obama’s association with Bill Ayres and Jeremiah Wright? It matters.
Know their background. A legislature full of lawyers is going to do what they know how to do—write laws. Is that what we want? If they have been elected to office before, how have they voted? In Colorado we are fortunate to have great citizen watchdog groups—many of which date from 2009. The Colorado Union of Taxpayers (CUT) rates legislators on tax and spending issues. The Principles of Liberty organization rates their votes on eight dimensions of limited government, free markets, and individual liberty. PoL also rates the bills themselves. Clear the Bench Colorado rates judges on their rulings.
There are also citizen groups that specialize in specific topics like home schooling and Common Core. If an issue is important to you, find that group.
How to properly vet candidates
If you can’t trust what a politician says, who can you trust? You already know the answer: your friends. The people you know well. You may not agree with them on every political issue—or any issue—but you do know their character and where they stand. If you’re interested enough and you have the time, get to know the candidates like you do your friends.
Short of that, talk to your real friends. Perhaps you have a friend whose opinions you can trust and who is “plugged in.” But a warning here: be careful. In the 2008 election, 20% or voters made their choices based on something they read on Facebook or other social media. Facebook friends aren’t like your real friends (although there may be a large overlap in categories.)
Finally, stay plugged in over time. Politicians are hoping you’ll check out the day after the election and won’t engage again until a month before the next election. In the meantime, they’ll do whatever their party or campaign donors want them to do.
Therein lies all the danger.
This is the second in a series of articles about how We the People can work to take back the government and reorient it to a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.