I had some hopes for VPR’s big Secretary of State debate at noon today. Incumbent Democrat Jim Condos, who also won the Republican nomination on a write-in vote but threw it back like a dead fish, faced off against Progressive Ben Eastwood.
I was expecting some sparks to fly. After all, it was Eastwood who spiked a motion at the Progs’ June convention to endorse Condos, referring to Mr. Secretary as a “crony capitalist.” And Eastwood has shown himself to be a loose cannon in the public sphere. So I was expecting Young Ben to come out with guns a-blazin’.
Well, he didn’t. He was, for the most part, rather passive. Also nervous, occasionally uninformed, and in general gave listeners no real reason to vote for him.
In fact, Jim Condos was the more aggressive of the two, pressing Eastwood on his past characterizations of corporations and lobbyists and Condos himself, and his ability to take on the numerous duties of the office. I’d expected Condos to just sail above the fray and basically ignore his challenger, but apparently some of Eastwood’s criticisms had hit a nerve.
For his part, Eastwood occasionally mentioned his past criticisms of Condos, but mostly in passing — as a way to add a little color to his questions and statements.
He did manage to do one thing that, for instance, Scott Milne failed to do: when given the opportunity to ask his opponent a question, he was ready with a good, solid, pertinent one about using the Secretary’s office to oversee lobbyists. Condos had no trouble answering it, but at least it was a solid effort.
Overall, though, Eastwood didn’t have much to offer. Which figures; he’s a young man with a background as an activist, but little or none as an administrator. And the Secretary of State’s office, more than anything else, is a big honkin’ bureaucracy that requires a steady administrative hand. As a political writer, I interact with one piece of that office — elections and campaign finance. There are four other major divisions: Corporate registration, professional regulation, archives and records, and providing information and advice to local governments. That’s a lot of responsibility.
Eastwood did offer a few ideas, but almost all of them had to do with campaigns and elections, and most are actually outside of the office’s purview. His top priority, he said, would be to create an online information exchange where the public could access legislation, testimony, and other information — and also provide input. A Reddit sort of community marketplace of ideas.
Condos’ rejoinder: that’s something for the Legislature to do online, not the Secretary of State. He has advised the Legislature on updating its website and enhancing transparency, but he can’t create the kind of open forum that Eastwood wants to see.
I could cite other examples, but the point is, Ben Eastwood is young, inexperienced, and enthusiastic. Some of his enthusiasms are germane; many are not. But in this debate, he failed to make a case against Condos, and failed to establish himself as a serious applicant for the job.
He did manage one thing, though: he didn’t embarrass himself or his party.