Except for last Thursday’s district attorney duke-out, the three candidate nights held so far in Nevada County have been relatively bloodless affairs, hardly in keeping with the full-contact politics favored by most partisans in the county.
The League of Women Voters means well, and there is enlightenment to be gained by having all of the candidates for an office respond to the same set of questions. But the unfailingly polite and bend-over-backwards fairness of these forums takes the spark out of the politics.
Most of the candidates yearn to rip out the guts (metaphorically speaking) of their opponents but don’t want to risk coming across as bullies. Since none of them are likely to engage in face-to-face debates, residents may conclude there isn’t much to choose from or — even worse — not bother to vote at all.
The LWV format favors incumbents because challengers never get the opportunity to quiz office holders about their real or perceived shortcomings, and because there are no follow-up questions, it’s too easy for candidates to dodge a tough question. Do you really believe the supervisor candidates when they say they’ll let the voters decide the medical marijuana issue?
So, my fellow citizens, we need to take matters into our own hands and ask the pointed questions of candidates that show us how they react under adversity, articulate their own visions and give us confidence that our votes won’t be wasted or miscast.
Opportunities to ask these questions occur as the candidates make the rounds of what passes for our rubber-chicken lunch circuit — the various fraternal, civic and social organizations that will invite candidates to address them between now and election day.
These are questions candidates don’t like to answer because it might cost them votes, but it’s information people need in order to cast an intelligent vote. As for the organizations that stage these question and answer sessions, I hope they will allow at least one follow-up question to cut down on the evasiveness. So let’s start with …
District attorney: DA Cliff Newell says he’s doing a good job despite budget cuts, while challenger David Alkire says Newell isn’t fighting for the resources needed to do the job.
So how much has the budget been cut since Newell became DA, and how has this impacted the office’s policy regarding plea bargains, which seems to be the default policy around here? (If you say there’s no impact, does that mean you were wasting money before?)
How does Alkire expect to get more money from our notoriously tight-fisted board of supervisors? While you’re at it, guys, where do you stand on the courthouse situation?
Superior Court judge: I watched some of the LWV forum and was impressed when several of the candidates actually gave nuanced answers to some of the questions. But I’m most interested in the big one: Plea bargaining.
Many people don’t realize this, but judges can reject plea bargains made by prosecutors and defense attorneys. So, what are your criteria? Don’t try to weasel out of it by saying every case is different.
Except where they are constrained by higher court rulings, judges apply an underlying philosophy to the decisions they make. Why do you think defense attorneys shop for sympathetic judges, and how do you think the president comes up with nominees for the federal courts?
And what’s your position on our bail schedule, which has become no more than a low-cost, get-out-of-jail card? Do you like the current courthouse, or do you want a new one?
Third district supervisor: This is shaping up as the most hotly contested race on the ballot, with Grass Valley Mayor Dan Miller challenging incumbent Supervisor Terry Lamphier. Here are a couple of questions for each of them:
Lamphier: Name one thing you’ve accomplished during your tenure as supervisor that has made Nevada County a better place to live.
As a supervisor, you serve on the Gold Country Broadband Consortium, the Northern Sierra Biomass Task Force and other boards and committees. Name one thing any of them has accomplished during your tenure.
Miller: We know your plan for creating low paying jobs — more retail at Dorsey Drive and Berriman Ranch. What are your plans for creating some high-paying jobs?
Aside from two stints on the city council, you’ve served on the boards of the high school district, ERC and other organizations over the last 25 years. Name two accomplishments you’re proud of.
Fourth district supervisor: Supervisor Hank Weston and his challengers talk about serving the district while philosophizing on the big-picture issues. I’d like each of them to identify our biggest countywide problem and how they will take a leadership role in solving it.
Superintendent of schools: Incumbent Holly Hermansen is being challenged by Paul Haas. I have one question for both of them: Are you willing to take a leadership role in consolidating our numerous small school districts so the schools that are left can provide a comprehensive education for our children? (Give extra credit if they answer in English instead of educator-ese.)
But regardless of how they answer these questions, give the candidates credit for showing up and facing the voters. That’s more than you can say for Rep. Doug LaMalfa, who is apparently too busy in Washington casting another vote against ObamaCare to bother to participate in these forums.
George Boardman lives in Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays in The Union.