Silent Running

Every election year, dozens of special interest groups quiz candidates for public office. Questionnaires flow in from groups as diverse as the Christian Coalition, the Sierra Club and the Arizona Association of Manufactured Home Owners.

Campaigns are hell. Amid boring chores like stuffing envelopes, circulating petitions, nailing up campaign signs and begging for cash contributions, filling in those questionnaires can be tedious and time consuming. Nonetheless, they provide one more opportunity for a candidate to make his or her views known. Questionnaires are de rigeur.

Until now.
Political science scholars, take note: Our own governor, Jane Dee Hull, has deemed them unnecessary. And she's setting a new standard in issue-dodging. Candidate questionnaires are so bothersome, so tiresome, so gruesome to Hull that she has come up with an ingenious approach for dealing with them. She's not. She's not answering them. Any of them.

This will come as no surprise to those who have been watching Hull's reelection campaign. So far, the Hull campaign has been a series of poses: ads showing the governor playing silently with children or gazing adoringly at Eddie Basha, as he offers his endorsement.

Hull has agreed to a mere handful of joint appearances with her leading opponent, Democrat Paul Johnson, and she wants to see all "debate" questions in advance.

Just business as usual at Hull '98 headquarters.
When last we looked in on our superheroine, the month before the GOP primary, Jane Hull was caught in a battle of her alter egos: Big Red, the tough-talking, stand-taking lawmaker we knew in the 1980s and early '90s had been morphed into Granny Hull, the quiet governor determined to ply us with sweet talk--or no talk--until after her reelection.

Although her handlers promised we'd see a bit of Big Red after the primary--which Hull won easily, as predicted--it's been two weeks, and Granny Hull still has a hold on Jane.

And that's why Hull blows off every candidate questionnaire that comes her way.

"To Whom It May Concern," begins the form letter Hull sends in response to all questionnaires.

"Thank you for the questionnaire you recently sent to me and for your interest in my position on various issues.

"As you can imagine, I have received--and continue to receive--a great number of such requests. Regrettably, time constraints make it impossible for me to answer each questionnaire individually."

The Hull reelection campaign encloses a copy of the governor's State of the State speech, mentions her 20 years of service as a state legislator, secretary of state and now governor, and concludes:

"I want to assure the membership of FILL IN THE BLANK that as Governor I will continue to address issues that come before me with an open mind. I will carefully weigh each decision and always ask myself: 'What is best for Arizona?'"

That's a good question. Call me a nutty idealist, but I expect a governor, especially one who's asking people to vote for her, not only to return those questionnaires, but to take great pains to inform the electorate of her positions, no matter how annoying or time consuming or potentially controversial an examination of her positions may be. That would be best for Arizona.

See, most candidates figure the way to convince the voters that you're the right person for the job is to get your message out. So you spend a few campaign dollars on a staffer to debrief the candidate, fill in the questionnaires and ship them off.

Candidate questionnaires can serve a purpose in the election process, since the info in them usually winds up in handouts to the press and in interest groups' newsletters. Endorsements are often made based on questionnaire responses. And newspapers also use the information to determine their own endorsements; sometimes they send out their own questionnaires. (New Times doesn't.)

Is Jane Hull too busy to answer questions? If she's not too busy to moon over Basha for ad spots, time is probably not the issue. More likely, it's the idea of committing to stands that keeps Jane from putting pen to paper.

If she starts answering questions--like the ones on homosexual rights, from the Arizona Human Rights Fund; or the ones on public education, from the Arizona Education Association; or the ones on abortion rights, from Choice PAC--suddenly, she's set herself up for a public debate on the issues. Suddenly, she's got a record for her opponent to poke holes in.

The queries aren't necessarily easy, but they usually represent valid areas of interest to various Arizonans:

"Describe your strategy for leading and collaborating with members of the legislature on environmental issues."

"Should homosexuals be allowed in the National Guard?"
"Do you believe government should impose rent control requirements on private housing providers?"

"Would you vote to oppose legalization of physician-assisted suicide?"
"Do you believe that there should be any limits on the type and quantity of firearms that people are allowed to own?"

"Do you support the repeal of Arizona's so-called 'archaic laws' that outlaw sodomy, cohabitation and adultery?"

In her form letter, Hull tells her inquisitors to stick to her track record in public office. But Hull hasn't served in the Legislature since the early 1990s. And during her two and a half years as secretary of state, she didn't take a lot of stands. As governor, Hull has assiduously avoided volatile issues, like abortion rights. Her State of the State speech--like her campaign--is platitudinous and vague and safe.

This is Jane Hull's first high-profile statewide race. The voters have a right to know where she stands in 1998 on every issue, and she has the obligation to tell them.

Hull campaign manager Mike Hull--her son--insists the decision to deep-six the questionnaires is about expedience, not evasion.

"The amount of questionnaires that comes in for a gubernatorial race is unbelievable," he says, estimating the number will top 100 before the campaign's over. "There is no way that you can fill out that many applications."

Mike Hull says Jane doesn't need to dilly-dally with questionnaires because she's already the incumbent with an established record. Non-incumbents have no choice but to return the questionnaires; incumbents generally don't, he claims. For example, says Mike Hull, in 1994 then-governor Fife Symington did not return questionnaires during his reelection bid.

Not so, says Jay Heiler, former Symington chief of staff.
"The Symington campaign did, in fact, respond to a great many questionnaires, I think--probably most of them," Heiler says.

The reality is that Jane Hull and her campaign advisers believe she doesn't need to return questionnaires, not because she is an incumbent, but because it's incumbent upon her to keep quiet. Hull is ahead in the polls, way ahead. Why should she put out a message now? That could ruin everything.

Her opponent, Paul Johnson, has a much different task. He's scrambling to accept every public speaking engagement and fill in every questionnaire. His staff even coughed up the campaign's entire pile of 30-plus completed surveys, upon request.

Given their circumstances, both Hull and Johnson are wise strategists. But that doesn't make Hull's tactics any less disappointing. Mike Hull obviously knows this, for he offers a weak substitute.

No, the campaign isn't answering questionnaires, Hull says. But he has spoken to the hundreds of people who have called the campaign with specific questions about Jane Hull's positions. If all of the state's 300,000 or so voters decide to call before election day, Hull campaign staffers are going to be busy.

You can reach the Hull '98 headquarters at 462-5353. Ask for Mike.

Contact Amy Silverman at 229-8443 or at her online address: [email protected]