Ask the Candidates, Get Candid Answers

We expect much from our elected leaders yet rarely do we get the opportunity to engage them on the issues we care about. So many members of Congress, yet so little chance to actually ask them where they stand on important issues of the day.

Those running for office and their opponents spend most of the time on the campaign trail speaking to us rather than with us, it seems. They tell us what they believe – or usually just what they think we want to hear.

It’s time all of us got the chance to question those seeking our vote. Now it’s easy to do: .

This website is the first-ever online survey that allows users to directly ask their candidates for Congress specific questions about key environmental policy issues. And when they answer, the site serves as an online voter guide so people can compare their candidates’ positions side-by-side. NRDC Action Fund and a host of partners are sponsoring the site. Policy experts at these groups developed the questions, which were reviewed and approved by a bi-partisan panel that included a former Congressman, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY). Straightforward questions in search of candid answers – that’s what the website is about!

The only time I actually succeeded in asking a candidate – face to face – his position on an issue I cared about was when I was running the PIRG canvass in Miami back in 1992. I read in the paper that presidential candidate Bill Clinton was going to be in town addressing Democratic state legislators at their annual conference.

At the time we were working to prevent drilling off the Florida coast (déjà vu!) and trying to drum up support for a proposal in Congress to buy back the federal leases held by some oil companies in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. I drove a few volunteers over to the convention site and we quietly slipped into the ballroom. Our plan was simple: spread out and try to position ourselves along the receiving line after Gov. Clinton finished his speech. Whoever got to him would ask him a question about drilling.

I worked my way up to the front of the audience, against the wall near a set of flag poles. Near the end of Clinton’s speech I saw a young campaign aide staging a group of military veterans near the flags. It seemed probable that the governor would head toward them for a photo op. Sure enough, after he finished talking Clinton offered perfunctory handshakes to a few officials below the podium and then strode briskly toward the old soldiers.

Just before he got to them I moved in and reached my hand over the velvet rope cordoning off the audience. The governor shook it – but I didn’t let go. I looked him in the eye and asked our set question: “Governor, if elected president would you support the plan to protect Florida’s coast by having the government buy back federal drilling leases in the Gulf?”

He smiled at me, paused, then with a slight shake of his head waved off a staffer approaching to hustle him away from me. At this point it seemed that all eyes in the room were focused on our exchange. Still smiling, Clinton asked, “What does Senator [Connie] Mack say about that?” I replied that the senator supported the buy-back plan. Without missing a beat he answered: “Then I would definitely support buying back those leases.”

Clinton then moved quickly on to those vets. But all of sudden I was surrounded by local reporters and a few TV cameras, all wanting to know what we discussed, why I asked, and who I was. The next day stories mentioned our exchange and one of the local news stations aired a brief interview with me about our campaign. And sure enough, after Clinton won the presidency the buy-back plan won approval in Congress.

Getting the chance to ask the future president a serious question was a unique thrill I’ll never forget. But like most people, I can forget getting such a lucky opportunity again. That's the beauty of CandidAnswers -- it enables everyone to seek answers from our congressional candidates. It's super easy to ask them via email and a convenient way for them to respond.

You ask, they answer. Simple. We hope you'll try it!