Fed up with negative ads, citizen coordinates candidate forums

12 years ago

By Natalie Bazinet
Staff Writer

PRESQUE ISLE — Retired English teacher Alice Bolstridge, of Presque Isle, educates herself on the candidates each election season, and she’s spent the better part of the summer coordinating three forums aimed at helping Aroostook County voters do the same thing.

Bolstridge has arranged for three question and answer forums in Caribou, Fort Kent and Houlton in the upcoming weeks that will attempt to cut through what she finds to be misleading, negative advertisements and find out how candidates really feel about certain issues.

Describing herself as “just an ordinary citizen,” the retired teacher cited her motivation to make these forums possible: bad advertising.

“There are no laws against lying to people who are going to be voting,” Bolstridge said. “I don’t like the quality of the advertising, which is where most people get their information.”

Instead, she has extended invitations to mostly all candidates to sit down at central, northern and southern Aroostook venues to answer questions on the economy, healthcare and education; a selection of audience questions will also be up for discussion.

The idea is to get the candidates together and have them try to talk to each other “so the voters could hear them outside of arena of political advertising,” Bolstridge said.

Organizing the events has been a lot of work for the one-woman planning committee, but Bolstridge is dedicated.

“All summer long, it’s been tough … but I haven’t been able to let go,” Bolstridge said.

“Something is better than nothing when it comes to voters interests, which is my primary concern here, and [voters] need to get information that is to some degree honest,” she added.

Bolstridge had hoped that these forums would be an antidote for negative ads and half-truths that emerge as the calendar creeps toward Election Day, but getting all the candidates on board has and continues to be a challenge.

In early August, Bolstridge aimed to have the Women’s League of Voters sponsor the forum, and the league agreed; invitations were emailed from the league to candidates on Sept. 15.

For whatever reason — schedule conflicts, unopened or overlooked emails — too few Republican candidates expressed interest in attending the forums by the Sept. 22 RSVP deadline and, as Bolstridge explained, the League of Woman Voters will not sponsor events that are not bipartisan.

Even without the support of a larger organization, the long-time teacher resolved to continue with the forums and sent email invitations to Aroostook Republicans on Sept. 29, requesting their attendance.

“I am still very interested in getting bipartisan participation of the candidates, and I will keep the invitation open for all candidates until the date of the event,” the email reads, and asks candidates to help Bolstridge obtain bipartisan volunteers (and tripartisan representation, in the case of Caribou) to keep the events party-neutral.

On Oct. 1, Bolstridge maintained her optimism that Republican candidates will attend so that voters can make an informed decision at the polls.

“Most of the Democrats have responded, saying they’ll come, and I would love to have the Republicans there as well,” she said. “I’ll keep it open until the last day and [Republican candidates] can show up to the forum and participate — I hope they will.”

On Oct. 2, a handful of phone calls yielded the result that Republican candidates don’t seem to be against participation in the forum — House of Representatives District Four (Caribou) Candidate Carol McElwee expressed her regret that she would be unable to attend the forum due to long-standing schedule conflict but extended her support of the bipartisan forum; House of Representatives District Eight (Houlton area) Incumbent Joyce Fitzpatrick expressed her initial intent to attend the forum, but described how the lack of confirmed attendance for other regional Republicans deterred her participation (as one Republican candidate’s views are not representative of all Republican candidates); District Three (Van Buren, Limestone, Woodland, New Sweden area) Incumbent Representative Bernard Ayotte said that he plans on attending the Central Aroostook Forum, schedule permitting.

One Republican candidate was not invited to attend the forum, but neither was his Democratic counterpart.

Bolstridge explained that neither District Five candidates — Republican incumbent Michael Willette or Democratic candidate Bob Soucier — were invited to attend the Oct. 9 because the city they’re vying to represent, Presque Isle, held their own candidate forum on Oct. 1 specifically to inform the district’s constituents.

Regardless of whether there will be Republican representation at the Caribou forum, a different viewpoint will be highlighted as independent House of Representatives District Four (Caribou) Candidate Mark Goughan did RSVP in the affirmative for the Central Aroostook Forum.

Whether or not the forums produce their bipartisan intent, Bolstridge is hopeful that the events will be informative and an opportunity for candidates to be respectful of each other.

“ I remember some of the legislators that I respect a whole lot — Margaret Chase-Smith, Susan Collins, Michael Michaud — those people knew how to practice responsible criticism with respect, and that’s something that I think needs to be practiced; I hope that these forums will allow candidates to practice doing that,” Bolstridge said.

Central Aroostook forum will be held at the Caribou Recreation Center on Tuesday, Oct. 9; the northern Aroostook forum will be held in Fort Kent on Friday, Oct. 12 at the town hall and the southern Aroostook forum will be held in Houlton on Monday, Oct. 15 in the Exhibit Hall at Community Park. Each forum is scheduled from 6 until 7:30 p.m.; attendance is free and open to the public.