As we prepare to launch another round of editorial board session interviews with candidates on the local, state and federal level, I am amazed to see how obvious mistakes from previous election cycles continue to be repeated over and over again.
I’ve spent the last week researching, contacting and trying to reach candidates. You would think the process would be simple. But it really isn’t. And some things that should be obvious simply aren’t. Let’s start with the Internet. Why in this day and age would political candidates not have a campaign webpage filled with press releases, photos and contact information concerning their candidacy?
Well you would be surprised by the number of candidates who don’t have websites, or even a Facebook or Twitter page. And Facebook and Twitter are free.
When it comes to searching for contact information for a candidate, nowadays most folks will search the Internet first. The good news is that many of the candidates on the federal level do, in fact, have a website. So contacting them shouldn’t be a problem. Right? Not necessarily. I’ve noticed over the years that many political candidates with websites fail to include an actual phone number for their campaign on their website. Why is this? I ran into this same problem again last week — and in several instances it involved candidates on the federal level. Now I understand the argument that landlines might be going the way of the dinosaur, but political campaigns should still have landlines — and cell numbers, for that matter. And those phone numbers should be included on a candidate website. Most of the websites do include an email address — although many of these email addresses appear geared toward making campaign donations than contacting the actual candidate.
That brings me to another point. When there isn’t a phone number, Internet page, Facebook page or even a Twitter account for the candidate, the next best option for a newspaper guy trying to contact a political candidate is to turn to the Secretary of State’s website. Normally the Secretary of State’s website will at least have an email address for a candidate.
So I email the candidate. And I wait for a response. A response doesn’t come. Why? Once again, a candidate for political office — or his or her staff — should probably check their email account every day, and respond to email inquiries.
It is also always disappointing to see a candidate who is woefully unprepared for a meeting with a print newspaper reporter or a full editorial board. Some will frustratingly dodge simple, common sense questions, by sticking to their stock 30-second television commercial sound bites. Here’s an example. “The economy is down. Jobs are urgently needed in the region. If elected, what can you do to help with job creation?” The candidate responds with a vague, television commercial sound bite, about repealing Obamacare. OK? “How about improving infrastructure in the region, including roads and bridges?” Again — the candidate responds by stating that his political opponent has voted alongside Nancy Pelosi 99 percent of the time. Maybe I’m exaggerating just a little bit here. But you get my point. And we’ve actually had this happen to us before during editorial board sessions.
When a candidate comes to Bluefield, he or she should be prepared to answer questions not just about federal issues, but also about southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia, as well as the specific needs of say Bluefield, Princeton, Welch, Tazewell or Richlands. Just do a little bit of homework and research. It’s not that hard. We have a bridge to nowhere in Bluefield. Most communities can’t proudly proclaim that they have a bridge to nowhere. We fuss about this all of the time. We don’t want a bridge to nowhere. Clearly, we are looking for ways candidates can help to get construction back underway on the King Coal Highway.
And the last time I checked Obamacare didn’t cover bridges or roads, so staying on topic is always important. Save the 30-second sound bites for the television reporters — who are looking for short and quick responses to fill 15- to 30-second television segments. That doesn’t work in the newspaper business. We need detailed, specific responses. And I can tell you that nothing is more frustrating than a candidate who refuses to answer a simple question. In our editorial board sessions, refusing to answer a question will only lead to more questions.
I hope our upcoming editorial board sessions will go smoothly. I hope the candidates are prepared. I hope those who don’t have phone numbers on their websites will add contact numbers to their website soon — perhaps after reading this column. I hope they can answer questions about both federal and local issues. I hope they know what the King Coal Highway is. And I hope they have a plan for job creation — regardless of whether they are on the local, state or federal level. These are simple questions. And responses about Obamacare and Nancy Pelosi are generally not the correct answers. We’ll ask about the Affordable Care Act as a separate question later.
Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @BDTOwens.