I attended Tuesday's forum of the four Democratic candidates competing for Sheldon Wasserman's Assembly seat.
First .. I want to strongly thank the League of Women Voters for hosting this event. What a great public service these folks do. I know I sound like a candidate there, but these forums are a tremendous benefit to voters. -- There will be another forum for the Senate candidates, Wasserman and Darling, later in October.
I was also very pleased at the turnout. The Shorewood Library room was packed, standing room only. I'd estimate about 200-250 people were in attendance.
The format was simple .. each candidate made a 2 minute opening statement. The League asked the first three questions, then combobulated eight more questions from audience question cards. Candidates were given 90 seconds to answer.
Honestly, the format is pretty terrible. No one can give a legitimate answer to a tough question in 90 seconds without being vague. All four candidates were guilty of describing the issues without demonstrating specifics on how they would solve them. Mostly, the 90 second format is to blame.
Here's an example. There was wide-open question on the Environment and Energy Efficiency. Each candidate gave out platitudes about how great Lake Michigan is, how we must protect it, how they were happy the Great Lakes Compact was passed. Blah, blah, blah. Hell, any audience member could have given that kind of answer. Another wide-open question about the WI State Budget. "We must be bi-partisan" was a typical chant. Wow. Such insight!
I'd much prefer a forum with fewer, yet bigger, questions with moderator follow-up and more time for candidates to explain their whole positions, talk amongst themselves for contrast. Take half an hour, talk about the State Budget. I realize that would be a very challenging moderator job. But I digress.
While I took notes on each candidate's position on each topic, I will not pretend to be able to properly explain each viewpoint. However .. I did "grade" each candidate's response to each question. What do I base this on? Two items. Primarily content, but also style and presence, and what each candidate did with 90 seconds.
Why? Look, you've got four Democratic candidates here. They all pretty much agree on everything. Environment? Let's protect it. Smoking bans? You betcha. Health Care? Everyone should have it. Drinking & Driving laws? Let's toughen them! The 4th candidate to reply almost always said "Well, I agree with the other 3 guys here."
There's no real answer here. I'm just a guy sitting in the audience, taking notes, picking a grade. This is completely subjective on my part. I tried my best to give each candidate a chance, tried to listen to each one and what they were saying. I can admit to being a co-captain of our high-school debate team, so I know a little bit about the topic of grading public speaking.
Of course, I also graded candidates on their tiny variations, what they spoke of in those 90 seconds. Dan Kohl got points for mentioning the desire to have an independent DNR secretary. Guy Johnson got extra points for saying that the education funding formula benefits MPS, and that the solution to MPS' woes will come from their administration, schools, and families. Feldman got extra points for wanting a comprehensive solution to MPS' problems, including child well being, anti-poverty, and transportation issues. Pasch got points for talking about property tax burdens. Ad infinitum.
If a candidate was vague and their 90 seconds were riddled with platitudes, they got bad grades. If they hit some specific points or action items, they got good grades. Questions were also graded on a curve, as there were some that I don't believe anyone could really give a good answer to, in 90 seconds. If they were eloquent with a crappy answer, they got some points, too. Inarticulate, crappy answers are, of course, the worst outcome.
Grades for each of the 11 questions .. each candidate is listed in random order.
Dan Kohl: B, B, C, B, A-, B+, A-, A-, A-, B, A-
Sandy Pasch: B-, B-, C, C, B-, A, C, B, A, B, B, B+
Guy Johnson: C+, C, B, C, A-, C, C-, A+, C-, B-, B+
Andy Feldman: A-, B, C-, B, A-, B+, C+, A, A, A, A-
After a little data crunching, I think I did a pretty decent job. My gut told me who was 1, 2, 3, 4 as I left, and my average grades hit my gut. I'm not going to show the math here. There's no point in finding who won, or lost, by 3 tenths of a point. It's more interesting to note the top two, Kohl and Feldman.
I was most impressed by Andy Feldman, but a close 2nd was Dan Kohl. Feldman had a really solid presence, on answering questions, citing talking points, and using his remaining time knowing how valuable it was, talking to 250 voters on issues. That's not to say I loved every answer Feldman gave. You can tell he's an eager "progressive" Democrat. That should scare you a little.
The last place candidate "won" some questions, just as the first place candidate tanked a few.
I shot two video sequences .. honestly, they aren't particularly representative of the whole forum .. candidates are reading their opening and closing statements, to a great extent. The real test is the Q&As, where each has to think on their feet.
Note: This is amateur video, so it's a bit shaky, and there are a couple times people walk in front of me!
The first is each candidate's opening statement.
The second video is two items .. I wanted to tape one of the questions .. I ended up getting the last question, one I believe was pretty weak and had little to do with how legislators legislate. (I'm sure some disagree.) It's a softball question about prayer time before Assembly meetings.
Following that question is each candidate's ending statement.
*** Make sure you read the Candidate Roundup, written last week.
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