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Marjorie Cortez: Personal contact gets my ‘yea’ vote

SHARE Marjorie Cortez: Personal contact gets my ‘yea’ vote

Woke up Monday morning to find a political flier on my front porch. Since I've already voted, it went straight into the recycling bin.

Three times on Monday I was invited, via recorded telephone messages, to vote for this or that candidate. Thanks for calling, my ballot's been cast.

It's not as though I'm politically uninterested. It's just that candidates achieve saturation at this point of the campaign season. Except for the clever television commercial with Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert in his jammies urging us to vote early, I don't find a lot of campaign advertising all that effective. I prefer to read newspapers, visit Web sites and take in political debates. I mean, who are these undecided voters, people who do such a poor job of following the issues and the candidates that they actually can be persuaded by last-minute recorded telephone messages, billboards or brochures?

Perhaps I'm jaded by all these years in the news business, but I don't have a lot of patience for last-minute smear campaigns, either. In my book, they telegraph desperation. Nor am I persuaded by an onslaught of campaign brochures, radio and TV commercials and lawn signs. (Can't you hear me crying uncle?)

The stuff that resonates with me — a political candidate knocking on my door, shaking my hand and explaining why he or she is running for office — is rare. It's happened just twice this political season, although one candidate didn't take the time to talk to the eligible voters in the household, he merely thrust a handbill in my child's hands and said "Give this to your parents."

This obviously isn't feasible or practical in a statewide race, but I happen to think it's important in a legislative race or a school board race because the issues they handle tend to hit us where we live. It's a long time between the filing deadline and even the primary election. Is it too much to ask for a little face time?

Could it be that incumbents — the large majority of whom are re-elected — figure they don't have to knock on doors, kiss babies and do the honk-and-waves? Do they just take for granted that we'll vote for them?

Don't get me wrong. I have profound respect and gratitude for people who open up their lives for public inspection by virtue of running for office. As Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, told the Deseret Morning News editorial board Monday, "Until you put your name on the ballot, you don't understand what it's like."

So why do they run? Bennett says it's because candidates are either great optimists who believe they can make a difference by serving in public life or they're riddled with insecurity and running for, and being elected to, office somehow gives them validation.

Bennett, by the way, places himself in the optimists' camp. So much so that when he ran against Joe Cannon in the 1992 Republican primary for Senate, his advisers urged him — three weeks before the election — to go negative. Bennett said he resisted because he believed his ad strategy was working. Besides, "I have to live with myself when this is over. I'm not going to do it," he recalled.

That's perhaps the most important lesson of all for candidates come Wednesday morning. Did I comport myself on the campaign trail in an honorable way? Can I still look myself in the mirror? Was my campaign effective, win or lose?

Candidates who are not elected are perhaps some of the most important players in the political process. They force incumbents not to take their positions for granted. They make incumbents justify their previous term or terms in office. They give the electorate a choice.

I'm not so naive that I'm certain they'd trade all that in a heartbeat for a victory. But having a choice is what makes our system of government so remarkable. How the candidates go about persuading us to vote for them is the price we and they must pay.


Marjorie Cortez, who would prefer more town meetings and fewer glossy brochures stuffed in her mailbox, is a Deseret Morning News editorial writer.