Keeping Candidates Accountable Long Past Election Day

February 11, 1999

Candidates may promise to act on behalf of children and families, but there comes a point in the legislative session when the doors close, deals get cut, and according to co-director of Connecticut Voices for Children Shelley Geballe, "kids get patted on the head and dismissed."

Connecticut's Promise: First for Kids, a statewide, citizen-based education and accountability campaign, is working to change that dynamic. The organizers and volunteers of Connecticut's Promise want to make candidates understand that when they're elected to office, they're elected in part on a children's platform. The message is stern: if candidates fail to live up to promises made on behalf of children and families, they risk being targeted for defeat in the next election.

Connecticut's Promise is a two-year initiative of Connecticut Voices for Children, a statewide advocacy organization and member of the Coalition for America's Children. Their message is one that the Coalition for America's Children has long championed. During the 1996 elections, the Coalition launched a national nonpartisan campaign to ensure that every candidate for public office put forth a children's platform. Using tools provided by the Coalition, child advocates and concerned citizens encouraged all candidates to develop a set of specific proposals to improve the health, education, safety, and economic security of America's children. The Coalition commissioned public opinion polls, offered information on conducting candidate forums, and provided examples of candidate questionnaires to help voters across the country decide for themselves "Who's for Kids and Who's Just Kidding."

For the 1998 election, Connecticut's Promise followed suit in a statewide campaign for children. As always, the goal was to educate and mobilize Connecticut's citizens to determine "who's for kids" in their state. Citizens framed a series of questions about children's issues for all candidates, encouraging them to communicate their positions on issues relevant to Connecticut children and families.

Connecticut's Promise publicized candidates' responses and encouraged citizens to compare their own views to these positions when they went to the polls in November. The Campaign itself presented an agenda for Connecticut children and families to elected officials. For example, one recommendation the Campaign presented to candidates was to make community service a high school graduation requirement in Connecticut.

The Campaign will monitor legislators' votes once the 1999 session begins and distribute this information, giving citizens across the state the tools to hold legislators accountable. Connecticut Kidslink, a single point of entry for various Connecticut groups working on behalf of kids, will continue to feature legislative updates and information on the latest issues for Connecticut kids. The Web site will serve as a resource for state citizens who are interested in keeping candidates accountable for their campaign promises.

1000 Voices for Connecticut's Children, a group of individuals committed to helping state and community leaders make informed decisions about children's issues, also takes action after election day. With the help of materials from Connecticut's Promise, these citizens will remind policymakers that they are accountable for promises made on behalf of kids.

According to Janice Gruendel, another co-director of Connecticut Voices for Children, one of the keys to candidate accountability is proactivity. If citizens don't know the issues and the candidates' positions before the election, they won't know how to make sure they follow through. "With the devolution of power and money to the states," she says, "there's a lot less information readily available to citizens."

All the more reason, says Gruendel, that citizens need be discussing accountability early on in the process. Otherwise, she warns, "you won't have a way to hold anybody accountable on the other end."

Accountability begins, according to Gruendel, with data gathering through polling and research studies. The campaign then uses the study results to set benchmarks and goals: "Once you've decided that all kids should have these specific things, you figure out what it takes to do it," she says. "Then you get citizens to tell legislators, 'You've talked a good game, let's see some policy action.'"

The Child Advocate's Tool Kit helps Connecticut citizens understand state government and how they can influence it.