The Franklin County Consortium for Good Government has, since 1991, sponsored candidate forums to educate voters and allow those running for office to make their case directly to the people.
“We don’t want people playing eenie, meenie, miney, moe with their ballots,” said the consortium’s Janyce C. Katz. “These decisions are too important.”
They are important. Too important to base on a billboard, a 30-second radio or television ad, or a slick brochure. There’s something spectacular about the democratic process of campaigning that allows voters to look a candidate in the eye, ask questions and size up those who wish to be hired for jobs that will determine our rights, our finances and our children’s and communities’ future.
That’s where the consortium comes in. This year, it hosted seven forums. Several were standing-room only.
Don’t talk to us about voter apathy. People do care — when their participation is welcomed and they believe their vote will count.
Voters today will decide state and local issues and select candidates to lead school districts, city government and courtrooms.
The candidate forums, Katz said, are aimed at helping “voters educate themselves so they can make intelligent decisions about who would be a better candidate for them. (Still have questions? Learn more about candidates at the Dispatch’s online candidate guide at Dispatch.com/ votersguide)
The group in itself gives us hope that the political rancor and divisiveness seizing our country today can be mended. The consortium has grown to include dozens of organizations of all faiths, colors and political stripes. And these organizers not only get along, they’ve become friends.
“In a sense, because lots of folks who have different beliefs work together for a common goal, we have our own model of how our democratic system should work — people getting together to work on issues. And we make friends across those differences — quite a nice side benefit,” Katz said.
The consortium began with a partnership between the National Council of Jewish Women and Brook-wood Presbyterian Church to host a forum with 1991 Columbus mayoral candidates Greg Lashutka and Ben Espy. To welcome all, Brookwood koshered its kitchen for several years. The League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Columbus — another hardworking voter-education group — joined as a sponsor early on and provides staffing for the consortium. And dozens of other congregations and community sponsors and supporters have joined over the years, including Stonewall Columbus and the Catholic Diocese of Columbus.
These candidate nights have been well attended by office-seekers and voters alike because the ground rules demand fair and grown-up behavior. Every candidate gets to answer the same questions, and a moderator screens out loaded questions. Classroom discipline is imposed, because this is a learning environment. So when someone showed up in a gorilla suit one year at a Worthington forum, the person was invited to take some refreshments and agreeably stood outside. See, kindness and respect work.
Many volunteers and candidates have worked hard to educate voters today, but it’s up to each of us to preserve democracy. Please vote.