Is there a place for civility in a political campaign?
The Brainerd area will find out this fall as area political candidates will be asked to sign a pledge to practice honest and fair campaign principles.
Sponsoring organizations are the Rosenmeier Center for State and Local Government and area branches of the League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women.
Shirley McConnell, Nisswa, a board member for both Rosenmeier Center and the League, said the Civility 2000 coalition is asking this region's candidates to sign a pledge to uphold honesty, fairness, respect for their opponent, responsibility and even compassion in their campaigns.
"We felt that even those elections here in central Minnesota were becoming too negative ... and were really demeaning to the whole democratic process," she said. "And we're thinking that as a result of this, there's increasing cynicism and alienation and decreasing participation.
"Since we all have a stake in this, especially these three (sponsoring) organizations, we thought we should try to do something. We want to encourage issue-oriented electoral campaigns and we want to educate Minnesotans about what campaigns should be about and just improve the general dialogue about public policy."
Candidates who will receive the request to sign the Civility 2000 pledges are those running for Senate District 12, House District 12A and 12B, the Crow Wing and Morrison county boards, the Little Falls School Board and the Brainerd, Baxter, Little Falls, Pequot Lakes, Nisswa, Crosslake, Crosby and Ironton city councils. Civility 2000 will make presenters available to speak before organizations that would like more information about the project.
Attorney John Erickson said one goal is to lower the volume of non-issue-oriented campaigning and increase the possibility of candidates treating each other in a more humane manner.
"All of us need to be a little more civil," he said. "We can all profit from being less acrimonious."
Some think the negative tone of some political campaigns keeps qualified candidates on the sidelines.
"People who have skills and are probably highly thought of by a broad spectrum of the community are indeed reluctant to get into the political process because of the perceived down sides," Erickson said.
Tim Houle, Morrison County coordinator and a member of the Rosenmeier Center's board, said negative campaigning has a harmful effect on both the election process and public service. If a candidate runs a campaign of negativity, he said, that sometimes extends to the candidate's public service, making it difficult for elected leaders to govern.
At some point during the campaign, Civility 2000 will publicize the names of those candidates who sign the pledge and those who abide by it. In keeping with its positive tone, the organization won't mention those candidates who choose not to sign or who do not follow the precepts of Civility 2000.
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