This week, The Chamber coined “The Candidate Cracker Barrel.” By definition, a Cracker-Barrel is an extended, informal and habitual discussion. Thirty state legislative and county commission candidates from North Dakota and Minnesota convened to meet with over 100 Chamber members in the first of what we anticipate will become habitual discussions amongst our members as the “candidates” become the “electeds” and begin making decisions that impact every aspect of our professional and personal lives.
As a regional Chamber, we consistently take a regional approach to everything we do. Commerce doesn’t recognize state borders or the political lines that divide districts. Bringing together candidates from various races and voters who, more frequently than not, live, work and do business across district lines, allowed a unique forum to perpetuate regional thinking among the membership. With so many crucial issues facing the region relative to flood protection, tax reform, education and economic development, every candidate and every race matter and engaging in the process is a critical component in electing leaders who share our mission of advancing the economic climate of our region.
“This is great step forward in advancing a heightened level of engagement with our candidates,” says Chamber President/CEO Craig Whitney. “We want to make sure our members are connected and that their voices are heard on a local, state and federal level as part of The Chamber’s advocacy efforts.”
Traditional candidate forums provide an opportunity to line candidates up and hear each answer the same question. The Cracker Barrel afforded unique, two-way conversations that were mutually beneficial to both the candidate and the voter. It was obviously a modern approach.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect out of the Cracker Barrel, but it really allowed us the opportunity to meet with numerous candidates on the issues specific to our organization,” said Lori Ward from Lakes & Prairie Community Action Partnership Inc.
Candidates met individually with tables, some of which were from the same business, others of which may have been from neighboring districts. The candidates were clustered by state and race. This allowed Chamber members a chance to meet with the candidates, or group of candidates they were the most interested in, however; many attendee’s appreciated the opportunity to meet candidates they otherwise would not have reached out to.
“I really liked the Cracker Barrel. I wanted to meet the county/state politicians and this was a great way to do it,” said Denice Wieser from Dakotas Chamber NECA. “I liked the table choice option based on who you wanted to visit with.”
From a candidate’s perspective, although not always meeting with a voter from their district, they were able to hear directly the concerns of local constituents and ask questions of them about their priorities. Tyler Axness, a first-time candidate for the North Dakota House in District 16, commented he enjoyed the format and but he wished it would have been longer to meet with more groups.
Representative Blair Thoreson from north Fargo’s district 44 is somewhat of a veteran at election year campaigning.
“This was a wonderful opportunity to network with opinion leaders from throughout our communities. Whether they were from the private sector, educational leaders, or other elected officials, I appreciated their thoughtful questions and informed comments on a wide variety of issues. I look forward to future sessions of the Cracker-Barrel” said Thoreson.
As the Director of Government Affairs for Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson, Inc., Bob Valeu has also had plenty of experience with candidate forums. As the presenting sponsor of the Cracker Barrel, Valeu noted that the unique format may be a model for future candidates engagements.
“The Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber created a unique and much-needed platform for the private sector and individuals running for elected office to engage in the kind of conversations that people need to be having before elections,” Valeu said. “In order for us to truly participate in a representative democracy we must educate ourselves on the candidates and learn values while allowing these individuals to be able to honestly answer questions of their constituents in an informal but highly effective manner.”
Thirty candidates participated in the Cracker Barrel.
To learn more about The Chamber’s advocacy program and how you can get involved, visit http://fmwfchamber.com/advocacy.