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Calendar is set for CDN’s Citizens Agenda ’23

It's time to submit questions to guide election coverage

By Ron Judd Executive Editor

Something irritating or vexing on your mind? We’re here to facilitate some off-gassing. 

Consider yourself invited to the Big Conversation over the arriving-sooner-than-you-think, potentially monumental local primary election of 2023.

This might sound like nagging on our part, but ballots will be mailed in about four weeks, with major stakes present in several races and probably tax measures and citizen initiatives.

What should be the top order of business for a new, or returning, county executive or mayor of Bellingham? Should we hire a new county sheriff steeped in the tradition of the departing one, or go in a new direction? How big of a jail should Whatcom County build, where and at what cost? 

We could go on, and eventually will. 

The immediate point: Elections are a rainy day thing and it’s hardly summer. But if you want to change the world and stuff, participating in the hallowed institution of American representative democracy is part of the deal. You can’t just dip into and out of this opportunity/obligation when time allows between Ultimate tournaments and colonoscopies. 

So here we go again, offering to be your go-between.

As mentioned previously, Cascadia Daily News is reengaging its Citizens Agenda electoral-coverage process, which puts the choice of subjects to be explored in election news coverage in the hands of readers. The process allows readers to submit, then vote on questions that not only guide reporters and editors, but also are asked directly to candidates in CDN’s candidate endorsement interviews.

As a locally owned community institution, CDN views election coverage as vital to our role as communicators and representatives of you, the reader, at whatever table candidates are engaging in their traditional game of spin-the-facts on colorful fliers. It helps — a lot — if we come armed with questions that came not from us, but from the broader community. Strength lies in numbers.

To be candid: Last year’s Citizens Agenda didn’t yield a ton of questions we would have failed to imagine on our own.

Where it did help, greatly, was in prioritizing those subjects. This year’s version 2.0 of our reader-powered election experiment will fine-tune that process, breaking candidate questions into separate groups for local government, crime and justice, and education. 

Engaging is simple, and some of you know the drill. But for the newbies and those interested in specific dates, here’s how the Citizens Agenda will play out, and when: 

Today: CDN Citizens Agenda ’23 officially kicks off. Consider it kicked.

Now through July 10: This is your part. We need your questions, responding to the prompt: “What do you want candidates to be talking about as they compete for votes in the coming election?” Send these by July 10 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.

Mid-July: As election ballots hit local mailboxes, CDN will publish a Primary Voter Guide section containing a ballot with a Big List of reader-submitted questions for voting by other readers. (Voting will be available on a Google Form and via snail mail.)

July 26: Deadline for voting on top reader questions, with announced “winners” soon to follow.

Aug. 1: Primary Election Day. Look for extensive same-day coverage of initial results at cascadiadaily.com, and in the following print newspaper.

Aug. 4: Citizens Agenda questions are published and mailed in a Q&A format to candidates for the general election. Candidate responses will be published in CDN’s general election Voter Guide in October.

August/September: As soon as the primary election is over — and it’s a doozy, featuring four or more candidates for many local government offices, including Bellingham mayor and Whatcom County executive, plus an interesting sheriff’s race and other contests — CDN’s editorial board will begin interviewing candidates in hourlong sessions.

These are on-the-record conversations in our office, which we hope to videotape for public distribution this year. (Note that while reporters participate in these on-record interviews, CDN’s endorsements — made by an editorial board composed of myself, publisher Cynthia Pope and ethics adviser/consultant Dean Wright — are a process kept separate from CDN’s election news coverage.)

Oct. 13: CDN publishes a special Voter Guide for the 2023 general election, including election news stories, analysis, editorial board endorsements and other useful information. 

Nov. 7: General Election Day. End of the road after a long, hot summer of campaigning, analyzing, parsing and jousting. (Note to self: Check flights to Hawaii.)

We’re also currently working to set up an October public candidate forum to highlight one or more races; stay tuned for more details. And we’ll be weighing in throughout the summer, starting soon, with coverage of individual races in our news pages. 

Any lingering questions? Send me a note at the email address below. 

We’re hoping our consumer-focused, reader-driven process will allow us to deliver the sort of accountability, insight and clarity that local voters deserve.

Thanks in advance for being part of that process. 

Ron Judd’s column appears on Wednesdays. Look for the choice words of his alter ego, The Hammer, online on Fridays; ronjudd@cascadiadaily.com; @roncjudd.

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