Dawn Miller: Voter ed; thanks; a single step

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For 20 years, an organization called Project Vote Smart has been compiling data on candidates across the country -- candidates who choose to answer the group's detailed questionnaires.The questions can be rough and specific for candidates, but the multiple-choice answers really give candidates an opportunity to be specific about their positions.This is great for voters, who can find all the answers for free at VoteSmart.org.Candidates often need prodding to complete these questionnaires because a reliable record interferes with the political games that many office seekers like to play, or think they have to play. It is more difficult to pitch yourself as one thing to this crowd and as the opposite the next day in front of another crowd when voters (and newspapers) can easily check.In its 20th-anniversary year, Project Vote Smart has good news and bad news.The bad news is several imposters have tried to take advantage of Project Vote Smart's good name by swiping it. Vote Smart-Florida, VoteSmart.com or Smart Voter are a few that have nothing to do with the original, highly regarded organization. One person even ordered 500 of the group's free "Voter's Self-Defense Manual" and then tried to sell them in Pittsburgh for $29.95, according to the Project Vote Smart newsletter.
The good news is that in the early days, 75 percent of Project Vote Smart's funding came from foundations, and only 25 percent came from smaller donations from individuals. Today, the ratio is flipped -- individual members provide 90 percent of funding, and foundations give 10 percent.This suggests conscientious voters appreciate Project Vote Smart's methodical, consistent and nonpartisan data, and they are willing to help pay for it.

• • •I recently had the privilege of attending Children's Home Society's Founders Day event. There, the organization honored Dennis Sutton, who retired this year after 27 years as CEO.It was a moving tribute to Dennis as a father, coach, boss and a leader of an organization that strives to put children into safe and happy homes. If you missed Sandy Wells' "Innerviews" with Dennis last month about growing up in Charleston, it's worth going back for.To all those larger concerns, I add my own thanks to Dennis for being a kind and patient teacher. Dennis taught me about how nonprofit organizations, or any organizations, are supposed to work. He taught me how a complex society can -- but too often doesn't -- meet the basic needs of the most vulnerable children. He sets an example for not letting the superficial, day-to-day trappings of any job get in the way of the real goal. Thank you, Dennis. And good luck.

• • •Finally, the WVU Extension Service organized a short lunchtime walk in Charleston this week to kick off LiveWellWV.org -- a new site to help us all nurture healthier habits. The site is a collaboration between Extension and the Gazette that grew out of Kate Long's amazing series "The Shape We're In." The site is a place for West Virginians to get together to boost each other A happy crowd of 30 or so people gathered at Haddad Riverfront Park, made acquaintances old and new, then walked to the Elk River and back on a beautiful Thursday afternoon. It was a great reminder of how possible it is to take 10 or 20 minutes out of a busy day to start or maintain a healthy habit. It also reminded me of the old Chinese proverb: "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Miller, the Gazette's editorial page editor, can be reached at dawn@wvgazette.com.

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