U.S. Presidential Candidates Snub Offer to Speak out on Library Issues

Article excerpt

During the past two U.S. presidential races, American Libraries has published the candidates' responses to a number of library-related questions. In 1988, four candidates participated (two Republicans, two Democrats) (AL, Feb. 1988, p. 106-107), while in 1992, five candidates respdnded (four Democrats, one Republican) (AL, Feb. 1992, p. 182+). This year, using the same procedure as was used previously to elicit participation by the candidates, only one candidate chose to participate--and even this response was not complete.

In early September 1995, we gathered a list of nationally known declared candidates' and compiled a questionnaire relating to library issues. We asked each candidate:

1. How do you view the library's role in educating our society and in preserving our system of government?

2. What role should the Government Printing Office and the Depository Library play in providing government information to citizens?

3. What is your view on contracting out government library and information services to private firms?

4. What should be the role of the federal government in ensuring access to the information superhighway?

5. What is your view of censorship in libraries? On the Internet?

Questions #1 and #3 were posed to candidates in 1988 and 1992. Other questions posed in previous surveys but not this year asked about the role the federal government should play in providing funds for libraries (1988, 1992); the use of NREN to promote education, research, and business (1992); the role that the nation's libraries play in the improvement of elementary and secondary education (1992); and the candidates' personal use of the library and how libraries have affected their lives (1988).

We faxed and mailed a copy of this questionnaire to each campaign office and telephoned each office's "issues person" or press secretary requesting participation. By the Nov. 1 deadline we received a response declining participation from Lamar Alexander's campaign, citing the time constraints on the candidate, and from the Clinton campaign office referring to the fact that President Clinton had not officially announced his candidacy.

The third week of November, we again faxed and mailed surveys and telephoned campaign headquarters, giving an extended deadline of Dec. 20. As a result of this second round of questionnaire distribution, we were heartened to receive verbal promises of participation from Doug Lark, staff assistant for the Lugar campaign; Marianne Carter, director of research for the Dole campaign; and Larry Dirita, issues director for the Gramm campaign. In December, we received notice from Tom Carter, campaign manager assistant for Buchanan for President, that, due to time constraints, Buchanan would not be able to respond.

By Dec. 20, the second deadline, we had still received no completed surveys. Follow-up telephone calls to the Gramm, Dole, and Lugar campaigns yielded Sen. Gramm's reply. Reversing a decision communicated weeks earlier, a staff assistant for the Lugar campaign left a message indicating that Sen. Lugar would not be participating. Our contact at the Dole campaign office, who had earlier promised his participation, never returned our calls. Ironically, Sen. Gramm--the only candidate to respond--pulled out of the race Feb. 14.

Since by early January we had received only one response, yet had received promises for participation from the Lugar and Dole campaigns, the American Libraries editors encouraged us to extend the deadline once again to elicit more responses. Letters were faxed to our original contacts and to others in the Dole and Lugar campaign offices urging participation. By early February, we had received no word from either campaign.

A puzzling brushoff

This lack of participation from presidential candidates is troubling. We stressed in our letters and our phone conversations that participation in this survey was an efficient, cost-effective way to reach more than 57,000 well-educated, interested voters. …