A campaign is not a garden party

A campaign is not a garden party

Elections ought not to be about discord, but they should be about differences.

It's nice — in the sense of reassuring — that the local Democratic and Republican candidates for the Illinois House of Representatives are promising to run a positive election campaign.

But "nice" can be interpreted in more than one way.

It's fine if it means civil, honest and open debate on the issues. It's too bad more elections campaigns aren't that way because they frequently devolve into mud-slinging contests.

But it's not fine at all if being nice devolves into a lack of candor that's required to give voters the best opportunity to make judgments about the candidates.

Democratic nominee Carol Ammons ran an issue-oriented campaign in her party's primary, claiming a solid victory over her sole opponent, local lawyer Sam Rosenberg. Some may have thought it was not nice for Rosenberg's supporters to challenge the legitimacy of Ammons' college degree or her candor when she was elected to the Urbana school board without meeting the legally required residence requirements. It probably wasn't, in the sense that the charges were less than flattering.

But a candidate's job is not to spare the feelings of a political opponent or the opponents' supporters. The election process is a vetting experience, and what candidates say and do, and have said and have done, is a part that process.

In that context, it's somewhat disconcerting to hear Ammons' Republican opponent Kristin Williamson's explanation of what it means to be "positive."

"For me to go beating up on policies that were implemented in the past, that's not going to fix what we're facing today," she said.

Obviously, mindless criticism doesn't solve anything. But a fact-laden and reasoned discussion about addressing the state's problems necessarily entails a discussion about what those problems are and the decisions that helped create them in the first place. That requires a candidate who not only understands the issues but is willing and able to articulate solutions.

Obviously, as a Republican running in a solidly Democratic district, Williamson wants to put her best foot forward. Incumbent Urbana Democrat Rep. Naomi Jakobsson is retiring after 12 years in Springfield, so there's no point for Williamson to contrast her positions with Jakobsson's past votes.

But there are, or at least there ought to be, real differences between candidates Ammons and Williamson, and voters ought to be told what they are. Ammons, who defeated the choice of party leaders in the primary, has been admirably candid in her discussion of the issues. Williamson, who did not have the chance to express her views in a contested primary, has been studiously vague, stating that she wants to "work with Republicans, Democrats and independents."

But work on what? Bland statements and empty cliches aren't going to cut it. The public is entitled to hear where the candidates agree and disagree on the important issues that face our state, and there's nothing at all positive about pretending otherwise.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion

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