Lack of courage or just too busy campaigning?

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By Carol A. Clark

The record shows only a small number of New Mexico candidates have taken the 2008 Primary Political Courage Test developed by the national non-partisan organization Project Vote Smart.

As of May 8, 11 percent of the state’s primary candidates for state Legislature, 21 percent of the state’s primary candidates for Congress and none of the candidates for U.S. Senate were willing to answer questions on the issues of top concern to New Mexico voters, reported Vote Smart.

Questions regarding the employment of undocumented immigrants, the death penalty, access to health care, gun possession licensing and the REAL ID Act are included in the test, which was administered to every presidential, congressional, gubernatorial and state legislative candidate willing to place their positions on the record.

The candidates are repetitiously asked one central question: “Are you willing to tell citizens your positions on the issues you will most likely face on their behalf?”

The test was created, designed and drafted by more than 200 of the nation’s most prominent journalists, political scientists and leaders of the major and third political parties, according to Project Vote Smart’s website.

Since 2000, the organization has found party leaders and consultants have been advising candidates not to respond to the Political Courage Test for two primary reasons, according to a recent news release: The test will limit the candidates’ ability to control their campaign messages and it will expose them to opposition research.

The responses of candidates who do take the test are posted on Project Vote Smart’s website, along with their campaign finance data, biographical information, voting records, issue positions, special interest groups’ ratings, speeches and public statements, and contact information on some 40,000 candidates and elected officials.

Los Alamos Rep. Jeannette Wallace, who has not taken the test, placed the situation in perspective during an interview this morning.

“We as candidates get a lot of these types of requests,” she said. “While we may think they’re a good thing – the truth of the matter is that most of the time we are too darn busy. Each organization thinks they’re the only one and that their test just takes 20 minutes. What they don’t understand is that we work full time, we don’t have secretaries and most of the time the questions are yes or no when they really are discussion items.”

Out of 27 Republican candidates running for state Senate, three took the test. Eight of the 50 Democratic state candidates took the test. Incumbent Sen. Carlos Cisneros, who represents Los Alamos, did not.

Cisneros said this morning he had not received the test.

All three New Mexico candidates seeking retiring Sen. Pete Domenici’s U.S. Senate seat also declined to take the political courage test.

Brian Phillips from Pearce’s Washington, D.C., office said he has not received an e-mail request for the congressman to take the test, adding that they have not received a follow up phone call regarding the test but would be happy to take a look at it.

Udall spokesperson Marissa Padilla said, “From his record of public service as attorney general and congressman, Tom Udall has shown that he has the integrity to do what’s right for New Mexicans. He has always made his positions readily available and we encourage anyone seeking more information to check out his website, www.tomudall.com.”

Wilson’s office did not return calls in time for this publication.

Of the 21 candidates running for the U.S. Congress in New Mexico’s three congressional districts, five took the test. Republican Daniel East is the only candidate to take the test out of eight running in District 3, which includes Los Alamos.

Republican Marco Gonzales declined to take the test, as did Democrats Jon Adams, Ben Ray Lujan, Rudy Martin, Harry Montoya, Benny Shendo and Don Wiviott, according to the website.

In District 2, Republican Greg Sowards is the lone candidate in the seven-person race to take the political courage test.

District 1 Republican Joseph Carraro and Democrats Robert Pidcock and Rebecca Vigil-Giron took the test. The remaining three candidates declined, according to Project Vote Smart.

Project Vote Smart was founded by such diverse leaders as former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro and current presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, who has not taken the 2008 Political Courage Test.

According to Project Vote Smart, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama also declined to take the test.

Of the 123 candidates running for the state House of Representatives,  five Democrats and six Republicans took the test.

Candidates who win the June 3 primary will be asked again by Project Vote Smart to provide responses to the political courage test in time for voters to review their responses before the November general election.

To view results of those candidate’s who did take the Political Courage Test, access www.vote-smart.org.