Is questioning politicians an art, a science or an exercise in futility? Answer: all of the above.
It also can be enlightening, revealing and just plain fun. It was all of those during a gubernatorial candidates' debate Tuesday evening in Tucson. The debate was sponsored by the Goldwater Institute and the Tucson Citizen, and all 10 candidates for governor took part.
Some 300 others also participated. They listened to the candidates' opening statements and their responses to two questions each from a panel of four, including Citizen Associate Editor Mark Kimble and Citizen political reporter C.T. Revere.
Then, it was the audience's turn. My task was to sift through a large pile of index cards on which audience members had written questions. Time limits allowed panel moderator Darcy Olsen, executive director of the Goldwater Institute, to ask one question of each candidate as submitted by the audience.
Choosing which questions would be asked was more difficult than I had counted on it being. Many were questions I wanted to know the answers to, others were pure political statements in and of themselves, some were easy questions aimed at specific candidates from supporters and a few were downright provocative.
Still others were irrelevant to the governor's race, because they were based on topics or issues that aren't in the purview of the governor. Nevertheless, the fact that they were asked was a good barometer of what issues are on people's minds.
Seventy-nine questions - some of them identical to or similar to one another - went unasked and thus unanswered. Here are some of them, including at which candidate the question was aimed. The question writers didn't always specify a candidate.
- Addressed to Republican Matt Salmon: "The INS is wrecking the emergency health facilities in southern Arizona by their refusal to take injured illegal immigrants under arrest before taking them to emergency facilities. What is your plan to correct this?"
- To Democrat Janet Napolitano: "Would you make a campaign commitment to not run for another office while in office?"
- To Republican Betsey Bayless: "If charter schools take a percentage of students out of public schools, why doesn't the public school budget go down accordingly?"
- To Democrat Alfredo Gutierrez: "Given the last three Republican governors' failure to fund K-12 and the universities, how will you restore our educational system?"
- To Republican Carol Springer: "What measures do you propose to make sure children enter school ready to learn?"
- To Libertarian Gary Fallon: "America has a higher percentage of its population in prisons than any country in the world. This is due to the drug war, which has put two-thirds of the people in prison for victimless drug crimes. Should we continue the drug war full speed ahead or admit the drug war is a failure and end it?"
- To Democrat Mark Osterloh: "Clean elections passed because it was supposed to be fully self-financed. It would have failed if the public had received realistic cost projections. Why don't you propose elimination of this unnecessary program as a first step toward solving state budget problems?"
- To independent Richard Mahoney: "What will you do about the high price of prescription drugs?"
- To Democrat Mike Newcomb: "What do you plan to do about school violence, drugs and drinking without placing unfair restrictions on those who are not part of the problem?"
- To Libertarian Barry Hess: "What is your specific plan to improve Arizona's education?"
Someone wanted to know if any of the Republican candidates had the endorsement of Gov. Jane Hull, and another asked what the candidates would do about issues related to Native Americans other than gaming.
One audience member wanted an answer badly; it appeared in the same handwriting on three different cards: "Would you as governor follow an order by the president, the attorney general or homeland security secretary to arrest and detain all Arab or Muslim students with visas enrolled at U of A, ASU and NAU?"
The most-asked question - five times in one form or another - was, "What do you believe is your most important accomplishment in life?"
Let's hope that for at least one of the candidates, that accomplishment is yet to come.