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Local View: More light needed on candidates for elected office

From the column: "Candidates who do not detail their visions are dangerous — and dark."

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David Fitzsimmons / Cagle Cartoons
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In the last six years, it has become more anecdotally normative to seek elected office on a platform of vagueness and opponent animosity. More time, energy, and money than ever seem to be spent defining what political opponents are about than candidates who exemplify their own detailed positions. Candidates who make detailed promises are becoming an endangered species.

I felt uninformed about the slate of candidates on my ballot in the days leading up to Election Day 2022. I was embarrassed to have spent minimal time learning about my candidates. I expected the candidates themselves would educate me with just 48 hours to spare, like a procrastinating student cramming for a final exam. My expectations were met with disappointment.

The first information source available to me were the advertisements my family received in our mailbox. I inspected each flyer to identify the sender so I could have a frame of reference about the offered information. Most of the flyers were sent from political action committees, according to the fine-sized print that only lawyers enjoy reading.

The advertisements had two common schemes. One aligned an opposing candidate with the current or immediately previous president. Alternatively, the flyers offered connections to the figureheads of Congress. Scheme two labeled any action by an opposing candidate or the candidate’s party at any level of government as harmful. The subterfuge of potential connections made it difficult to understand who or what I was to vote for as my vote would assuredly contribute to my nation’s demise.

The second information source I reviewed were endorsements, which are supposed to be persuasive and a criticism antidote. Presumably my favorite athletes, companies, actors/actresses, musicians, authors, or politicians would not lead me astray. But endorsements resemble a high school popularity contest: If a particular individual, group, or club wants you elected, then I should vote for you, too. Endorsements have too many unknown variables about the reason a person or group supports another to be considered adequate candidate research.

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Lastly, I tried offsetting the flyers and endorsements by accessing each candidate’s website. The Minnesota Secretary of State’s Elections and Voting webpage linked me to every candidate’s website when I entered my street name and zip code. This tool piqued my optimism about conducting efficient candidate research. But my optimism crashed because of the content, or lack thereof, on the candidate websites. Most contained generalized statements about various issues without defining how the candidate would affect the status quo. At least one incumbent used this strategy instead of highlighting work performed during the current term. Another candidate had a social-media presence but no website. Campaign donations were requested at each site I visited. Dishearteningly, just one candidate’s website articulated what the candidate stood for and wanted to specifically achieve. The candidate focused on the candidate’s detailed agenda while limiting comment on the opponent’s presumed positions.

Candidates who do not detail their visions are dangerous — and dark. Amorphous sentiments about constitutional rights, publicized rebukes of Supreme Court decisions, skewed statistics, out-of-context quotes, and fear of the unknown are enticing to uneducated voters who want empathy with nothing more.

This last election cycle was full of cloak tossing that need not be repeated.

It is rare for a person to pass a job interview based on the qualities of the competition. Candidates needed to do a better job of helping me find out about them — which would have helped me find my way out of the 2022 election dark.

Candidates, shine your light on what makes you the best person for my vote and the job. It will make us all safer.

Benjamin Kaasa of Duluth is a family law attorney with a bachelor of arts degree in political science.

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Benjamin Kaasa

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