Michael Carrier knows that asking politicians to be civil with one another is like asking lions not to chase zebras. But he just can't help himself: His vision of politics is one with fewer carcasses on the Serengeti. That's why Carrier, who is president of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, and several other religious leaders are again trying (the first attempt was two years ago) to get Colorado political candidates to sign a Code of Civility.
"One can hope that people will rise up to what the public wants, and I hope that the public, if they see negative campaigning, will respond appropriately," Carrier says. "That's the only way we might turn things around. But we realize it will not turn around in a moment or in one race."
Last month the group mailed out copies of the document to 168 candidates statewide; about 55 of those were signed and sent back, says Becky Vanderslice, who is running the program for the IAC. "Last time, we got about two-thirds in the end," says Vanderslice. "Some chose not to respond. We hope to do better this time because there is so much talk in the media about religion and politics."
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The code requires candidates to promise to focus on the issues, refrain from personal attacks and "from using religion as a means to divide," take responsibility for their direct advertising and denounce third-party attack ads.
Carrier and Vanderslice are especially worried about the Sixth Congressional District contest between incumbent Republican Representative Tom Tancredo and Democratic challenger Ken Toltz, which is expected to be one of the most closely watched battles nationwide. Then there's the state Senate District 28 race, between Democrat Bob Borquez and Republican Bruce Cairns, which has already been smeared in its primary stage by some nasty campaigning and is expected to get worse, since Borquez is gay and running in a Colorado Springs district known for the radically right-wing agenda of some of its citizens.
Although Tancredo and Toltz both promised to sign the code in an August 12 Denver Post article, only Toltz has mailed his in (and on August 13, a story in the Rocky Mountain News had both sides trading accusations and insults). Neither Borquez nor Cairns has signed, but they still have two weeks, Vanderslice says.
"None of the signers have violated it yet," she adds, "but the Labor Day weekend is the beginning of the real campaign, so now is the time to really monitor the races statewide. A lot of the nastiest stuff comes out at the end, when there is no time to respond."