“Who are you going to vote for for council?” With Kaua‘i ballots being mailed out in just two days, this question seems omnipresent in my email, text and Facebook feeds.
When I respond and list the five council candidates (three incumbents and two newcomers), the follow-up question is, invariably, “Why, are you choosing this candidate over that candidate?”
Picking your favorites and going public with those choices is something expected of those individuals and organizations active in the political world.
The endorsement process can be an awkward challenge to navigate, especially in a small community. Often, the general public observes their candidate/friend as a “good person” and may not understand the many factors that go into the endorsement decision-making process.
It’s not enough for the candidate to just be someone who everyone likes as a person. The lack of an endorsement does not question what’s in a candidates heart but does question their viability as a candidate, and whether or not their core values and historical actions align with that of the individual or organization.
The endorsement process and rationale for me, and for the organizations I work with, essentially boils down to a three factors:
1. Is the candidate viable? Can they win? Are they running a winning/real campaign?
• The incumbent normally has an advantage with this criteria, but not always;
• A candidate will often be asked to describe “their path to victory;”
• The likelihood of a candidate not succeeding in the race may be weighed against a possibility of long-term success and other factors.
2. Does the candidate share the endorsing organization’s core values?
• This is determined via “past actions” and/or a questionnaire/interview;
• Has the candidate supported/opposed issues important to the organization?
3. Can the candidate be trusted to “do the right thing” and “vote the right way?”
• No candidate will bat 100% and vote on every issue correctly every time;
• Every organization will have a bias as to what “voting the right way” means;
• Most candidates will not promise 100% compliance, and most endorsing organizations don’t expect the candidate to be a rubber stamp. However, on the “big issues” and when it is “crunch time” on important issues, the organization will expect the candidate to “vote their values” upon which the endorsement is based. “Their values” means values the candidate professed when seeking the endorsement, and that are aligned with values of the organization making the endorsement;
• While some will refer to an expectation of “voting the right way” as a “quid pro quo,” in actuality the endorsing organization is simply expecting the candidate to be the person they said they were, upon which the endorsement was based.
Why are some candidates endorsed and not others?
• Sometimes, a candidate does not want to be endorsed;
• Some organizations do not endorse in uncontested races (only one candidate running);
• A candidate may not be on the organization’s “radar” and perhaps did not “reach out or seek the endorsement,” and thus may not be considered;
• Prior experience with a candidate may make it clear no endorsement is warranted;
• The organization may want to limit endorsements so as to “target” limited resources;
• The candidate may have an obvious bias against the organizations goals and values.
Endorsements should only be one key factor in the decision-making process. I strongly encourage all voters to do the little bit of work that is needed for good decision-making. Visit the candidates’ website, watch what the post on social media, review the online forums that were held and, yes, actually call up the candidate or email them directly with questions on issues important to you.
Bottom line: Take ownership of your government, participate in the process, get to know your candidates, and then vote.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council, and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action and is executive director of the Pono Hawai‘i Initiative.