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Money Trail: Trained in bird-dogging, voters learn to press candidates

Last modified: 7/14/2015 7:42:31 PM
With the 2016 presidential primary slightly more than a year away, a group of voters turned out to Runnels Hall in Chocorua on Friday to learn how to effectively question candidates and force them into taking a public position on issues.

The American Friends Service Committee hosted the event on the trail of the N.H. Rebellion, as that group seeks to press candidates on their stances on campaign finance reform. One of N.H. Rebellion’s goals is to ensure candidates are hounded by one question whenever they’re in the state: “What specific reforms will you advance to end the corrupting influence of money in politics?”

At town hall meetings and informal appearances at state fairs, the AFSC advocates a process called bird-dogging to pull aside candidates and record their responses to questions. Whether it’s by shaking a candidate’s hand and never letting go, or pretending to pose for a selfie while a friend tapes an interaction instead of taking a photo, the efforts seek to empower voters to be confident and ready when an opportunity arises.

The first tip is to arrive early, so you’re positioned close to the front and likely to be called upon. Have your question ready and raise your hand as quickly as possible when prompted. Stick your hand out for the candidate to shake as he or she moves through the crowd – and use even that as a chance to ask a question.

The AFSC recommends attending events in groups of two or more and to disperse among the crowd, so one person can take video while another person asks a question. Finally, the group says to learn the candidate’s history to ask a question that is informed, concise and puts the candidate on the spot.

Jacob Brennan, a N.H. Rebellion walker, said the research portion is most important. He said he’d check on previous commitments made by the candidate.

“Have you actually followed up on what you’ve said you’d do?” he asked. “There’s no way to dodge that. You can’t say, ‘I’ll look into that.’”

Joe Palin, another N.H. Rebellion member, learned from a mock interaction with a presidential candidate that even an entire audience looking for the answer to one question won’t necessarily get it. Arnie Alpert – co-coordinator of the New Hampshire branch of AFSC – left the room, put a tie on and came back as Jefferson Lincoln. He shook hands with a number of attendees who tried to wrangle him into answering a question, and he proficiently dodged each one.

“Even if we were able to stack an audience and get all of our people asking the question, it’s still difficult,” Palin said.

During an exercise in which the 30 attendees took roles as reporters and candidates and pressed each other on questions, Palin learned he needed to work on his preparation.

“I froze up in the first part,” he said. “Usually when reporters bump into me, I’m not really ready for that. That kind of highlighted that deficiency for me.”

He said he also learned that an impromptu encounter isn’t a good place to ask a highly specific question after he questioned Alpert about the indefinite detenion clause of the National Defense Authorization Act.

“The answer is ‘I’ll look into that’ or ‘I’m not familiar with that,’ ” he said. “You’ve got to tone down the question.”

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickBReid.)


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