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Polson candidate forum showcases civility

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POLSON — In an election season marred by blind accusations, distortion of facts and horrific political attack ads featuring mudslinging and half-truths by both parties at the state and federal level, civility has become an uncommon phenomenon. 

That was not the case during the Polson Chamber of Commerce’s candidate forum at the Big Sky Bistro in Polson. Candidates for District Court judge, Justice of the Peace and several open Montana’s House seats were in attendance. 

Unlike most forums, the stage had no microphone, no moderator and no hard and fast debate style questions. No candidates screamed at each other; no conservative or liberal agendas were expressed; and candidates looked out over a sea of genuine smiles and applause while speaking. 

“It’s a nice change of pace,” remarked House District 20 candidate Dan Salomon. 

Salomon’s words were echoed by candidates and private citizens alike. 

Event host and Polson Chamber of Commerce Vice President Rich Forbis said the atmosphere was not an accident, but rather a product of less friction than is often brought on by question-answer debate forums. 

“I think it was just the fact that the pressure was off,” Forbis said. “All they were asked to do was introduce themselves and say why they should have the vote ... I think that’s just the nature of a meet and greet rather than a traditional forum.”

Chamber president Heather Knutson agreed with Forbis. 

“We’re glad that it turned out that way,” Knutson said. “As the Chamber of Commerce, we feel that our role is to offer a format for information more than anything else.”

Upon taking the stage, each candidate was given two minutes to speak. The two-minute time limit combined with the town-hall forum style diminished the need for candidates to answer hard questions under pressure. Instead, most candidates simply introduced themselves, stated their expectations of the position’s responsibilities, their experience in related fields and a brief explanation for why they deserve the vote.

After the brief introductory session, the candidates and private citizens in attendance were free to mingle with the audience and answer any questions they liked over drinks and refreshments. 

Two such private citizens in attendance were Tike and Mary Parsons. Both said it was a good opportunity to get to know the candidates better, and that they hoped to make it to more meetings in the future. 

“We came because we didn’t know a lot of (the candidates),” Tike said. “We still don’t, I guess, but this helped.”

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