A helpful survey of Town Council candidates’ positions on important issues is now available online. The questions on the survey are specific and non-partisan, and the answers are revealing about the candidates.
Unfortunately, only 15 of the 26 candidates responded to the survey by the deadline. That’s mostly because the survey was conducted by Amherst Forward, which had previously endorsed 14 of the candidates and formed a political action committee so it can raise money to inform voters.
With three exceptions, the endorsed candidates responded to the survey and the unendorsed ones didn’t. Jim Pistrang and Steve Braun were not endorsed by the group but did fill out the survey, and Victor Nunez-Ortiz got an endorsement but didn’t answer the questions.
Amherst Forward said it will allow candidates who didn’t meet the deadline to submit answers and will post them on their web site. I encourage them to do so. The ability to work with people you disagree with is an important qualification for Town Council membership.
I’m going to offer some views on both sides of this issue, and then express my own opinions.
Paul Bobrowski, a candidate in District 5 (Precincts 7 & 8) has no problem with Amherst Forward registering as a PAC.
“They have given me no money, no marching orders, nor do they plan to and I wouldn’t accept either if they offered,” he wrote on Facebook. “The few meetings I have attended were either informational (schools, zoning) or tutorial (how to run a campaign).”
Amherst Forward did provide data on who voted in the last few elections, but said that data is easily available at Town Hall, Bobrowski wrote.
“The fact that people are tracking voters’ preferences is hardly a surprise and only the politically uninitiated would think this is a nefarious activity,” he wrote. “Organizing is what people do when they want change badly enough.”
On the other hand, Andra Rose is “turned off by the premise that we need a PAC in our small town to inform the voters.”
“I feel like Amherst Forward is undermining the promise of the Town Council,” wrote Rose on Facebook, noting that she sided with the group on both the charter vote and the elementary school project. “I don’t consider a past position on an issue a reason to scratch a candidate off my list. Fanning the flames about the schools, an issue that divided the town in half, seems irresponsible.”
Rose questioned whether Amherst Forward can be objective. “If they’re the ones asking the questions, it’s not impartial,” she wrote.
Becky Demling wrote on Facebook, “I do see so many other groups endorsing a slate of candidates based on their opinions, and I am perplexed as to why this is any different.” But Perry Conley wrote, “I resent the PAC…People who harp on the school vote turn me off. I think it’s a poor litmus test.”
Most of the candidates who did not answer the questions said their non-participation in the survey was because of the formation of a PAC and because there were similar questionnaires elsewhere. The only candidates who didn’t respond at all were Bob Greeney and Sam MacLeod. Greeney said he never saw the survey, and Amherst Forward may not have had his correct email address. He is being sent another one.
“Some candidates objected that it is not appropriate for a partisan group to host a survey of all candidates,” Greeney said. “Not sure how I stand on that issue. Since I never received a request to participate, I did not have to decide.”
My own views are mixed. I think it would have been better if Amherst Forward had waited until after their survey was conducted before it endorsed candidates. And I don’t think they should be surprised that people associate a PAC with dark money and corrupt candidates, given the state of our national politics.
At the same time, I think that criticism is misplaced. I don’t see a problem with forming a PAC if the purpose is to keep voters informed, there are strict limits and transparency on contributions, and candidates have to finance their own campaigns. I don’t see the PAC as a reasonable justification for declining to participate in a survey that does not ask leading questions.
I think there hasn’t been enough information about the candidates, and it’s especially important as we choose our first Town Council members, who will serve for three years. We need answers that go beyond the canned, carefully sculpted positions published on candidates’ web sites. Amherst Forward’s survey provides those answers.