FAQs on LCI’s candidate endorsement process

What was your process? 

It was lengthy! Beginning in February, the Steering Committee helped LCI to develop a statement of purpose and values, then distilled those values down to a list of thirteen items. Next we identified every candidate from every party (Democratic, Republican, Independent, other) running for office in our catchment area – Lincoln County, mostly, but also state and federal races that affect us.

In April we turned our list of values into a questionnaire and mailed it off to all 47 of those candidates we identified, along with a letter explaining who LCI is and why they might want our endorsement. Plus a post-paid return envelope, and also a digital version of the whole shebang by email. We got 13 questionnaires back.

In May we spent time looking at candidate platforms, attending forums, hosting a small forum and a large one (!), and listening to what everyone had to say.

The next step was to read through every questionnaire as a group and independently score each answer on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the best score. We tallied the gross scores, then divided to get a final mean score for each candidate. It is worth noting that our scoresheets varied widely across candidates but were very, very closely aligned with each other, which we took as a sign that our process was a good one.

We then made our recommendations, and took them to the special 5/29 meeting to open up the process for interested members to vote.

Why so few candidates? Aren’t there others you think are noteworthy? 

Absolutely there are others. However, everyone was given the same chance to participate in our process and not everyone did. Some candidates may have been too busy, or didn’t take the time to find out who we were, or took one look at our list of questions and thought, maybe we’re not a good fit. Maybe the questionnaires went straight into the trash – we can’t tell. Meanwhile, every one of us is free to support candidates on our own time. Our list of six endorsements represent the candidates to whom LCI will give extra attention.

What were the 13 questions you asked each candidate?

“The mission of LCI is to promote progressive policies and candidates in the face of a systemic assault on our core values. Please describe your position on the following core values: 

  1. Defense of democratic institutions and the rule of law; protection of the free press against suppression of First Amendment rights
  2. Opposition to all forms of voter suppression; reform of campaign finance laws and implementation of ranked choice voting (RCV)
  3. Equal opportunities and justice for all
  4. Support for public education and free college
  5. A path to citizenship for immigrants
  6. No discrimination on the basis of race, sex or gender identification
  7. A woman’s right to reproductive freedom
  8. Defense of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security; affordable healthcare for all
  9. Fair wages and reduction of wealth inequality
  10. Protecting the environment for ourselves and future generations through science- and research-driven policymaking
  11. Responsible efforts to reduce gun violence
  12. Diplomacy-based foreign policy
  13. A moral budget based on the core values outlined above”

People actually answered those??

Yes, with varying degrees of success.

Why no governors in the mix? Weren’t you planning to pick one or two or three candidates and issue a voting guide for us to consider when we confront the RCV ballot?

We were, and that was partly the point of our May 12th forum. However, to our disappointment, and despite phone calls and email reminders and promises received, in the end only three of the seven gubernatorial candidates returned their questionnaires. For the record, those three were Mark Eves, Betsy Sweet, and Donna Dion. Also for the record, Mark and Betsy’s answers were excellent.

But in a race that complex and with such important consequences, in the end we decided it was not a service to our members to make endorsements in the face of incomplete information.

I don’t see “electability” in your list of criteria. Don’t you care about that?

Yes, we do. Especially in the high-wire gubernatorial and federal races!

But our mission is this: “Promote progressive policies and candidates in the face of a systemic assault on our core values.” To some extent, “electability” is a construct that DNC types have been bludgeoning progressives with for years, telling people to run to the center and actively interfering in primaries at times to stamp out untidy progressive uprisings. We’re all for getting people elected, but question the wisdom of those who preemptively decide what the voters might do. Hard work, great policies, voter restiveness, candidates dropping out unexpectedly, October surprises… we can’t predict how all these factors will work together, so we’re just looking at what the candidates say, what they do, and how hard they’re working. And a few other things, as in the Senate race.

Let’s talk about the Senate race and Zak Ringelstein. Aren’t you worried about backing a spoiler?

Let me emphasize this: Everyone to the left of the GOP is invested in making sure that this seat does not fall into Republican hands, including Zak Ringelstein.

If the voters approve Ranked Choice Voting on June 12, there will be no problem, because RCV eliminates the spoiler effect.

If RCV fails on June 12, then we all have some thinking to do. We put the question directly to Zak’s campaign, and this is the answer they gave:

We think there’s a high chance that Ranked Choice voting will pass on June 12, be used for the November 6 general election, and greatly contribute to Zak’s ability to win this U.S. Senate race. In the event RCV does not pass, there will be hard choices because of “spoiler” realities and perceptions, and we can promise that we won’t allow a spoiler to give the seat to a Republican.

Meanwhile, here’s the reason we voted to endorse Zak. His answers were far and away the most thoughtful, complete, and far-reaching of any candidate to participate in our process. His policies and thinking on every issue we care about are inspiring, instructive, and bold. He earned a mean score of 62 (out of 75 possible points) to Angus’s 41.

We’ve also noted that Senator King has been making some questionable votes lately, as on the banking bill, and that he has by and large voted to confirm most of Trump’s nominees. He is still operating as if we were in a business as usual model, and won’t agree to slow down McConnell’s effort to stuff the courts with barely qualified, far-right, lifetime appointments. In short, Angus is a sometime-reliable ally but Zak is a true progressive.

At a recent leadership training in Hartford, I brought up this race and the electability question to the people who wrote the book on Indivisible endorsements. After hearing me out on all the twists and factors involved, they said this: “It’s not that often that a truly great candidate comes along. When one does, it’s a cause for celebration and support.”

What did you learn from your process?

First, that people running for office are heroes. And second, that primaries are good for progressives. All the people running in contested races had given FAR more thought to their answers and positions than those who were running unopposed in the primaries.

Why endorse in the first place? It seems like a lot of trouble for little return. And no other Indivisible groups in the state seem to be doing it.

It is a lot of work, but it’s a great process. And I know some other Maine Indivisible groups are beginning to think about it.

Here’s what the national team says are the benefits of endorsing:

  1. Create meaningful pressure for your preferred policies and values
  2. Build stronger relationships with electeds
  3. Energize your members and build your group’s shared purpose
  4. Contribute to the functioning of democracy
  5. Have fun
  6. Possibly win!