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Tick-tock: Deadline looms for candidate questions

CDN's Citizens Agenda 2023 will fuel reader-powered election coverage

By Ron Judd Executive Editor

I’m finally about to stop nagging. Not to be nice; only because after next week, it’d be superfluous — at least in terms of primary electoral politics and CDN’s Citizens Agenda platform.  

For weeks we’ve been reaching out to readers, urging responses to our Citizens Agenda prompt: What do you want candidates to be talking about as they compete for votes?

Election day is Aug. 1, but ballots will be mailed out by the middle of next week. And we know that some of you vote early.

Many of you have already responded with questions, most of those thoughtful and on-point. But we need more before the cutoff date, which is end of the day Monday, July 10.

Nominations at that point will be closed for the Big List O’ Questions we’ll publish as a reader Citizens Agenda ballot in our Primary Election Guide on Friday, July 14. There, and in a Google form online, you’ll have a chance to select a handful of questions CDN will submit to all General Election candidates, both in person during interviews, and on a questionnaire to be published in our October Voter Guide. 

To save you the time — and trouble of submitting questions already asked — we’ve taken a peek inside the CA Mailbag (actually newstips@cascadiadaily.com) to see what’s already piling up, and likely to make the cut of questions on the reader ballot. Those subjects, covering ground well-trod — and others on our own agenda regardless — include:

Homelessness. Perhaps even more than during last year’s election cycle, people living on sidewalks and vacant spaces across Northwest Washington is a top concern. It’s not surprising to see homelessness — tied inextricably to housing prices, substance use disorders and other social conditions — lead the parade. People tend to be concerned about the problem from a full range of political perspectives: Some people want it solved out of compassion, others out of scorn or indignance. 

Health care. It’s a perennial national issue we might expect to see take a back seat during this intensely local election, except for one thing looming, dove-themed local object: PeaceHealth. The local “not-for-profit,” Catholic-based health provider has long been the focus of significant angst over its administrative practices and its near-monopoly hold on local health services. That focus has intensified lately in the wake of major cutbacks to local services, including palliative care and a heavily used allergy clinic. PeaceHealth’s community status, tax situation and, from some, an ongoing yearning for alternatives, are likely to be campaign issues this summer. 

Water quality and the environment. We’re in a green corner of the country and most of us want it to stay that way. Whether the issue is the use of gas appliances, drinking water quality, forest practices, sewage treatment, energy, alternative commuting or other more arcane causes, environmental concerns remain high, particularly in an era of increased awareness of climate change. 

Transportation infrastructure. We’ve seen a fair amount of questions about how people get around our cities and small towns, whether current systems are adequate for walkers and cyclists, and paving the way for better use of mass transit

Education. We haven’t seen large numbers of questions readers would like to see put to school board candidates, but a couple come to mind: How do you feel about the increased use of vouchers to give parents the financial ability to “opt out” of public schools? What’s your threshold for interfering with teachers’ decisions about which curricular materials to use in classrooms? What are your ideas to make schools safe from disturbed gun fetishists without making classrooms “hardened targets?” Or should we just give in and go there? 

Crime, justice and incarceration. With another new-jail tax measure likely to appear on the November ballot, the long-lingering question about the Whatcom County Jail — and all it represents — is likely to come to the fore in the race for county executive, sheriff, and even mayoral and city council races. 

Specific questions about all these subjects, it should be noted, still are worthy of submission and will be given full consideration.

Last year’s reader-chosen question “winners” focused on then-immediate concerns, some of which are interesting to look back upon. In order: Combatting homelessness, ensuring abortion rights, the legitimacy of the 2020 U.S. elections, common-sense gun regulation and single-payer health care.

With this year’s elections more focused on local, rather than national issues, we’ll be grouping candidate questions into subcategories for appropriate races: local government, crime and justice, and education. 

It’s interesting to see how some issues remain ensconced, but others seem less front-stove critical. One is what many last year perceived to be a fight to save representative democracy in the face of authoritarian tendencies among a preponderance of GOP leaders and many supporters. 

For better or worse, it seemed more house-ablaze urgent to local voters a year ago, when our third most-desired question was literally this: “Do you believe the 2020 presidential election was valid?” That question, remarkably, remains unsettled in the minds of some — with literally all evidence to the contrary. (For the record, all local candidates we interviewed in 2022 answered it, with varying degrees of confidence, in the affirmative, adding to our area’s rep for being somewhat of a national political outlier.)

So that’s how our own race to “elect” top questions is shaping up. We’ll use your question submissions and votes to once again shape our election coverage all the way to November. (Note: All of our 2023  election coverage will be free, outside CDN’s paywall, in recognition of the public value.)

If you haven’t already, please take a moment before Monday night to be a participant, not an onlooker, in the 2023 elections. Send your questions for candidates by email at newstips@cascadiadaily.com with the subject line “Citizens Agenda.” You can also text them to our news tips line, 360-922-3092, or mail them to us at P.O. Box 2833, Bellingham, WA 98227.

Thanks in advance for helping us help you elect smarter, better candidates. 

Ron Judd’s column is published on Fridays; ronjudd@cascadiadaily.com; @roncjudd.

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