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‘Courage’ better than most, still dismal

If your ballot is still buried in the pile of bills and junk mail on the kitchen table, and you need or want any more information about the candidates, the friendly folks at Vote Smart offer the results of their Political Courage Test for 2018.

If “political courage” sounds like an oxymoron to you (like, for instance, military intelligence), that’s not surprising, especially considering the results. Project Vote Smart is a bipartisan, national nonprofit organization started by former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. Its mission is to help voters by giving them up-to-date, thorough information about candidates and where they stand on the issues. The group is relentlessly bipartisan, to the extent that no one may join its board without a political opposite. Board members over the years have included presidential candidates George McGovern and Barry Goldwater, Rep. Geraldine Ferraro and Sen. John McCain. Its employees, many of them college students, work for no pay or for a bare stipend. The organization accepts no donations from any interest group that lobbies or supports or opposes candidates or issues.

The Political Courage Test asks candidates for Congress, statewide office and state legislative seats to answer details questions about where they stand on major issues. Participation in the test peaked in 1996, when 72 percent of candidates responded, and steadily decline thereafter, reaching just 26 percent this year.

The good news, such as it is, is that Oregon ranks third in the country for the political courage of its candidates, at least by this measurement. Delaware was tops at 83 percent, Idaho hit 60 percent, and Oregon tied with Iowa at 53 percent.

Hold your applause.

As might be expected, challengers tend to answer the questions, while incumbents generally don’t. Each candidate is contacted up to 14 times over 10 months, by phone, email and written letters.

The most common reason for declining to participate is concern that the candidate’s answers will be used by opponents in attack ads.

Vote Smart staffers don’t take no for an answer, meticulously researching voting records and public statements to give voters a general idea of each candidate’s likely positions. Still, it’s unfortunate that more candidates don’t step up and let the public know where they stand.

Here’s the scorecard for our area:

Governor: Incumbent Kate Brown and Republican challenger Knute Buehler both refused to participate. Brown participated in 1996 as a candidate for the Legislature

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden refused to participate. Challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner answered the questions, as did Independent Mark Roberts.

Oregon Senate District 3: Democrat Jeff Golden participated; Republican Jessica Gomez did not.

House District 5: Incumbent Democrat Pam Marsh participated; Republican Sandra Abercrombie did not, although she did in 2012.

House District 6: Republican Kim Wallan and Democrat Michelle Blum Atkinson both refused to participate.

House District 55: Republican incumbent Mike McLane refused to participate; Democratic challenger Karen Rippberger participated.

Search candidates’ responses on the Vote Smart website, https://votesmart.org/.

Reach Editorial Page Editor Gary Nelson at gnelson@rosebudmedia.com.