OK, you're a candidate for elected office. You're on the verge of bigshotdom. Come election day, you may once again be a nothingburger, but for the moment you're somebody -- making boring speeches to bored people, shaking hands with the voters, wearing a suit, uttering clichs.

Everything's moving right along, except ... those damned questionnaires.

Yup, name the special-interest group, and they sent out a questionnaire. And they're trying to pin you down, you evasive little weasel, you. The NRA, Christian Coalition, NARAL, Right to Life, Citizens Project, The Sierra Club ... and so many more.

For abortion, or agin it? No waffling -- no "on the one hand, on the other ..." -- just mark yes or no. Guns or no guns? Preserve the forest primeval, or clear-cut the mo'fo?

And if they don't want to pin you down, they're asking for a rewrite of the Federalist Papers in a paragraph or two. What are your three most important legislative priorities? What is an appropriate expression of religion in a public place? What are the challenges of [insert jurisdiction]'s continued growth and development? And on and on and on ... What is this, anyway -- Civics 101?

Relax -- it's just another series of hoops that you have to jump through on your way to political nirvana. Some advice: Ignore the questions -- just give your own canned, formulaic answers to the question that you'd prefer to answer, not the one they actually asked.

You're pro-choice, and pro-life as well. You're all for unrestricted gun ownership, and for sensible restrictions too. You're a strong environmentalist, and a firm friend of the forest products industry. See how easy it is?

So once you've gotten the hang of fooling at least some of the people some of the time, the next step is to get the endorsement of the state's leading newspaper, in this case The Denver Post. You'd think that they'd actually interview the candidates, but not this year. According to the newspaper itself, their endorsement process -- for which they expect to sway voters across the state -- consisted of asking candidates to fill out extensive written questionnaires.

Unlike the SATs, these questionnaires were not completed in a controlled environment, with interviewers. This is an open-book, take-home, parental-help-permitted kind of test.

So did the candidates cheat? Well, no -- the smart ones got professional help. And it was, undoubtedly, good help. At least one legislative hopeful, who shall remain nameless, was cited by the Post for his/her deep understanding of the budget process.

The candidate in question was a little puzzled by such praise; "Actually," he/she remarked cheerfully, "that's my weakest area. But I sat down with a couple of former legislators, and they helped me with my answers."

In my own past life as a serious campaigner, I was always good at questionnaires. So, for a modest fee, I'd like to offer my services to any future candidates. I'll fill out your Denver Post questionnaire, and if you don't get endorsed, you get your money back!! How can you lose?

And speaking of losing, if four of our incumbent city council members run for mayor come next April, at least three are going to lose. That's why it's so much fun to watch the various hopefuls, and their surrogates, maneuver for advantage.

For example, last week a piece in the G described, in one-sided detail, Councilman Jim Null's alleged propensity to avoid controversial votes. The principal source for the article? Blunt-spoken Councilwoman Margaret Radford, emphatically not a "Null for Mayor" supporter.

And consider the latest gay-rights flap -- City Manager Lorne Kramer's proposal to extend domestic partner benefits to city employees.

In most cities, such a step would be seen as either scarcely newsworthy or long overdue; in Colorado Springs, ground zero for the Christian Right, it's a big deal.

More than that, it can be the third rail of local politics: Touch it and you die.

Support it, and you offend/anger much of the activist conservative community. Oppose it, and you offend/anger the gay community, not to mention liberals and moderates.

Meanwhile, I recently spent a few minutes on the phone with the smoothly articulate Vice Mayor Lionel Rivera. Lionel called to remind me that the notion of making the Utilities Department pay to power the streetlights, which I made fun of in last week's column, had originally been proposed in 1995 -- by me! Hey, Lionel -- I knew that! -- it just slipped my mind momentarily. Next year Lionel's running for mayor -- along with colleagues Sallie Clark, Ted Eastburn and Null, not to mention half a dozen yet-to-surface wanna-bes.

Lotsa questionnaire business there. Ladies, gentlemen; if you act now, you can qualify for a group rate!



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