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Sneak peek at election endorsements: No easy choices

Slate of strong candidates a healthy sign for local democracy

By Ron Judd Executive Editor

Some of you might want to sit down for this: The editor is highly encouraged. 

I know: Chances are that if he simply lies down for a while, this too shall pass. 

But it may be worth noting that in recent weeks, amid the hubbub of quarterbacking (hoping here not in a Bubby Brister sort of way) a growing news organization, certain events have conspired to chip away at a wall of skepticism four-newsroom-decades in the making. 

One of them is the ongoing Cascadia Daily News election coverage, which includes our reporters’ diligent work on individual candidate profiles and issues stories, focused on matters personally suggested by readers, via our Citizens Agenda process.

We’re still in the midst of that, but good news is already apparent: Voters in the Nov. 7 general election are blessed with solid choices. After sit-down interviews with candidates for four major public offices, my own take is that they all seem qualified, motivated, passionate and well-intentioned. Not a disaster-in-the-making in that bunch.

This is not always the case, and it should be of comfort to voters. But it certainly won’t make choices any easier. We hope our own work will assist at least in some small way with what shape up to be numerous tough calls. 

Citizens Agenda fully engaged

CDN’s Citizens Agenda process — a local tradition, I like to say, for more than a 50th of a century now — has helped whittle down a fruit salad of public concerns to a few narrow points of interest. In the past several weeks, we’ve been putting questions from readers — and many of our own — directly to candidates for public office. A small sample:

What’s the best single thing we can do, right away, to preserve Whatcom County’s drinking water source, Lake Whatcom? 

How should next year’s Whatcom County Sheriff’s office look different, under new management, from this year? 

How should the community best manage what most agree is a crisis at the decrepit county jail?

What, if anything, should and could local politicians do to give the public more say in the operations of its de facto monopoly health care provider? How can we respond to a killer substance abuse problem that seems to be sweeping the entire planet?

Can Northwest Washington build a sustainable economy to match its high cost of living? How? 

Where should the hordes of climate refugees headed our way be housed? And since we can’t “cure” systemic issues such as homelessness, what can we do, and should we do, to make it less awful for all concerned, particularly those without shelter?

You know, just minor things like that. Answers are already appearing in our news stories.

Endorsements pending

The table on which some of these questions have been placed sits in a small conference room in our Bellingham newsroom, where editors and reporters have been conducting interviews with candidates for county sheriff, county executive, a county council at-large seat and mayor of Bellingham. 

We’re also collecting thoughts, data and politicians’ own views on the pending sales tax measure to fund a new jail and social programs aimed at reducing crime and recidivism.

As part of its civic commitment, the editorial board at CDN — myself, Publisher Cynthia Pope and nonvoting adviser Dean Wright — will make endorsements in those four races and that ballot measure during the second week in October, just before local ballots are mailed to voters.

Endorsement editorials will appear online during that week. They will then be printed, along with Citizens Agenda questionnaires from candidates, in a comprehensive CDN Voter Guide on Oct. 13. This year, thanks to our partners at KMRE Community Radio 88.3, videos of CDN endorsement interviews will be publicly available around the same time.

These are tough calls and our deliberations are ongoing as we observe the campaign season.

Why are we endorsing only those races? Logistics, mostly. We want our endorsements to be well-considered, including personal interviews with candidates. It all takes time, and we’re sort of stretched.

So we picked the races and measure we believe to have the most community impact, affecting the largest numbers of reader/voters. It’s the best we can do at present, and we hope it’s helpful. 

Welcome signs

In the meantime, a few more words on the perhaps-irrational exuberance exhibited by yours truly, above: Large candidate turnouts for elections are a very welcome sign. As our chief politics reporter, Ralph Schwartz, pointed out before the primary election, we live in a community that only a half-decade ago had trouble attracting solid numbers of next-people-up for service.

A rush back into the civic arena — aided, no doubt, by the ongoing, Trump-personified authoritarian/minority rule campaign, shaping up to be the long-COVID of American politics — is a healthy salvo in the ongoing battle to save U.S. representative democracy. 

Secondly, while most local candidates bring healthy skills to the table, they still represent stark choices in background, philosophy and style. All three of the top local races — sheriff, county executive and Bellingham mayor, offer candidates who likely will seem solid choices to voters depending on their own vision of what that office holder should be: Effective, managerial wonk versus visionary community leader? Insider versus outsider? Fresh blood or staying the course?

Qualifications, in other words, remain in the eye of the voter beholder. As they should. We respect that, and hope our coverage will help voters decide, at least, which candidates align with their own vision. It’s what democracy is supposed to be about.

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

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