Weigh candidates’ forum participation in voting decision

The cornerstone of our democracy is elections in which voters decide who will represent them at the local, state and national levels. Our role as a newspaper is a serious one. It is our job to try by every means to inform voters as completely as possible on candidates’ views regarding the issues they likely would handle if elected.

For more than a decade, we have sponsored public forums on major races to give voters and our readers one more way to make their voting decisions. Those forums are only possible through participation from political candidates.

This year’s forums will involve candidates for Williamsport mayor and City Council Monday night and Lycoming County Commissioner Wednesday night at the Community Theatre League in the Trade and Transit Centre in downtown Williamsport.

Because of intense interest in the Montoursville schools building plans, our intention was to sponsor a forum among the 10 candidates vying for various seats on the Montoursville Area School Board Nov. 3.

All of the five write-in candidates for those seats accepted our invitation and the school district was extremely cooperative in approving the school auditorium as the forum site. Four of the five candidates on the ballot did not return calls seeking their participation. The fifth returned a call and said the five candidates want to keep their campaign as a strictly grassroots effort and did not wish to participate in the forum.

We find it unsettling that individual candidates are making this decision as a group. This the first time candidates have turned down Sun-Gazette requests to participate in a political forum.

While the building plans are a big part of the district discussion, ground has been broken and school board members in the next four years will be handling a myriad of other education-related issues, some of them very complex. The point of the forum was to educate voters on the whole spectrum of issues the board will handle no matter who makes up that board.

So voters are missing an opportunity to get a more complete picture of candidates by hearing their thoughts on all the issues and watching them react spontaneously to discussions that only forums provide.

There are numerous factors that feed into pulling a lever or writing in a name to get someone elected. We urge voters to push all candidates to enlighten them on their views on all issues prior to the election.