Are presidential candidates, including Gov. Bill Richardson, becoming more cowardly? That seems to be the troubling trend, according to Project Vote Smart Media Director Mike Wessler. Project Vote Smart is a nonprofit organization that asks politicians to take the Political Courage Test (PCT) every year. The test is really more like a survey that asks officeholders and those seeking office about their positions on several major issues, including abortion, education and healthcare. Test takers can choose from a range of policy choices or they can explain where they stand in their own words. Although he took the PCT in 1996 when it was called the National Political Awareness Test, Gov. Richardson has declined to do so since. "Richardson’s people told us some of the information that’s asked for in the test is available on his campaign website but they said he would not take the test," Wessler says. Richardson’s campaign office did not return calls for comment.But the governor isn’t alone in his refusal. Out of 17 presidential candidates in the Democratic and Republican parties receiving serious media attention, only John Edwards, Chris Dodd and Mike Gravel took the test. As for why so many candidates are remaining tight-lipped, Wessler thinks it’s because political consultants are trying harder and harder to control their candidates’ messages. "We’ve had consultants tell us point blank, ‘It’s not our job to educate, it’s our job to win,’ ” he says. "I’ve also heard them say they don’t want their candidates to be boxed in to a corner by putting information out there, or they don’t want the test to be used by their opposition, but I don’t really buy any of that as a good excuse."Wessler says he doesn’t think politicians will be sprouting backbones any time soon. As long as they keep delivering their messages in the form of sound bites, he says, the public will have to dig up its own information. "How else are American voters supposed to know what politicians think about the issues unless they actually tell us?" Wessler asks. "Unfortunately, the answer to that is, you have to find out yourself. That’s why we track the voting records of elected officials at the state and federal levels. If they won’t tell us, we’ll find out ourselves."
To see what Project Vote Smart is all about or to see what your elected officials have been up to, visit votesmart.org.