How to Vet Candidates – General Principles

Guest Submission by Ron Devito

So, people – the voters – [have] a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. They need to do their homework. They need to study a candidate’s record – see what they have done in the past to give you a glimpse into the window of where they intend to bring this country in the future. -Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin Freedom Watch, September 29, 2011

It is incumbent upon us to properly vet candidates running for all elective offices so that we can make informed decisions based on facts. In less than 60 days, Gov. Palin taught us – her supporters – some hard but valuable lessons in politics and life. Gov. Palin has often said that our support of her was not so much about her per sé but about her common-sense Constitutional Conservative message. With her decision to not seek the 2012 GOP nomination, Gov. Palin taught us that no person alive is indispensable – not even the best the person for the job – and not even once-in-a-lifetime leaders. She taught us that we cannot always get what we want and we need to adapt to changing circumstances. As much as she asked us to trust her vis-á-vis her decision, Gov. Palin asked of us something even more difficult: to think for ourselves, to make informed decisions, and to trust in ourselves. If Gov. Palin is the Mamma Grizzly and we are her cubs, consider this as the Mamma Grizzly teaching her cubs how to hunt and survive.

Due Diligence


In the business world, investors go through a procedure known as "due diligence" to determine if a corporation or a project is worthy of investment and worth putting their money to risk. The principals in a venture or the officers of company seeking financing are also personally vetted to give investors some assurance that nothing untoward will happen with their money.

Vetting candidates is our conduct of due diligence, and even in this era of heightened political awareness, involvement and activism, few voters actually do it. Ignorance of how to vet, and voter apathy are the two most likely reasons. When voters believe that there is no fundamental difference between any set of candidates in a race, many will simply not bother voting, much less vetting. Voter apathy leads to the election of precisely the kind of people we don’t want in office and it becomes a vicious cycle.

"People get the kind of government they deserve." If we don’t vet candidates and a flawed candidate gets the job, we have no one else to blame but ourselves. If we sit on the sidelines out of disgust and the candidate we don’t want gets elected, whose fault is it? Our actions in elections at all levels of government have consequences.

Voter Vetting vs. Professional Vetting


Voter vetting is nowhere near as exhaustive as the professional vetting that candidates seeking endorsements or campaign support undergo. The vetting of Gov. Palin by the McCain campaign cost over $50,000. Candidates seeking Gov. Palin’s endorsement also undergo professional vetting, which costs thousands of dollars. Gov. Palin’s careful and disciplined approach to endorsements was responsible at least in part for the 68% success rate in her 81 endorsements of 2010 with an astounding 90% for the Take Back the 20 subset.

The average voter will probably never vet any candidate to this level, but several free tools are available to help voters make a more informed decision and we’ll discuss them in the next installment.

Beefs and Endorsements


Speaking of endorsements, be aware that personal beefs may influence a politician’s endorsement decisions. For instance, a co-worker told me that my former Borough President Guy Molinari has a running feud with Newt Gingrich that is over two decades old. Molinari recently referred to Gingrich as being "evil" and likely will not be at Staten Island Gingrich event December 3 so as to avoid a confrontation that could reflect on the Romney campaign. Molinari endorsed Mitt Romney and will have a leadership role in Romney’s New York primary campaign. My Congressman, Michael Grimm is a long-time friend of Molinari’s and looks to him as his mentor. Grimm endorsed Romney, much to the consternation and dismay of his conservative base.

Voters outside Staten Island may be unaware of the animosity between Molinari and Gingrich, but it may be a factor in local voters’ decisions, and it could ripple down to other well-known local politicians’ endorsements of a 2012 POTUS candidate.

Poor Vetting Practices


Having campaigned for two Congressional candidates and the McCain-Palin campaign, I have come face-to-face with some of the most shallow and ridiculous reasons why people choose a candidate, with the top three being: physical attractiveness, the sound of the candidate’s voice, and the candidate living in the same neighborhood/city as the voter. Some people pick candidates just on hunches. Some people are completely ignorant as to which candidate has which platform and vote based on what they don’t know. Shock jock Howard Stern went into a Manhattan neighborhood and recited the McCain-Palin campaign platform to people on the street. To a one, the interviewees thought the platform was Obama’s! Other people pick candidates based on sound-bites they hear on radio and TV, YouTube videos, or juicy one-liners in the paper or on the web. Some will take the time to read campaign materials, but go no further.

If we are to improve our government at all levels, we as voters need to do much better than this!

Campaign Materials Are the Starting Point – Not the End


Many voters go to a campaign website or brochure and if they like what they see, vote on that basis. Campaign materials are always self-serving for the candidate – any candidate – for any office. Reading campaign materials exclusively to form a decision is a poor voting practice.

As a voter, what you want to get from campaign materials is the candidate’s stated position on various issues. Knowing the stated position, if the candidate has served in office prior, you will want to examine the candidate’s voting record and we’ll examine how to do that in the next installment.

Be Careful with Special Interest Groups


When vetting candidates, you want to rely on non-partisan, official, unbiased, and authoritative sources. Be careful with special interest groups or political organizations including Tea Party Groups. Remember, there is no political party on any ballot called "Tea Party." The Tea Party is a grassroots effort and many organizations use the name "Tea Party." Some Tea Party organizations have aligned themselves with one candidate and will smear all others in an effort to help their chosen candidate win. Other Tea Party organizations may prefer a different candidate. Special interest groups who have chosen to back a candidate will also do what they need to do to benefit their chosen candidate. It’s human nature.

Do your own vetting and draw your own conclusion!



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