Sunday, September 20, 2020
Sept. 20, 2020

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In Our View: Public deserves to hear more from candidates

The Columbian
Published:

We were fortunate. There are, after all, privileges that come with being Clark County’s primary source of news.

But in the wake of a thoughtful — at times intense — interview with congressional candidates Jaime Herrera Beutler and Carolyn Long, we hope the people of Southwest Washington are treated to the same privilege on multiple occasions.

On Tuesday, Herrera Beutler and Long easily advanced through the primary election, securing spots in the Nov. 3 general election. They will be the two choices when voters select the representative from Washington’s 3rd Congressional District.

On Wednesday, The Columbian’s Editorial Board remotely interviewed both candidates. It wasn’t technically a debate; we don’t set time limits on answers, nor do we have a strict answer-answer-rebuttal structure. We simply ask questions and follow the answers wherever they lead, hoping to outline a portrait of both candidates.

The editorial board will use the interview to help determine a recommendation for readers as the election draws near. It is not the only factor, but how a candidate presents themselves and answers unscripted questions and probing follow-ups is important in helping us assess which candidate would best represent Clark County.

The Columbian’s News department is separate from the editorial board. That is an essential practice of newspapers; it is important that the reporting team and the Opinion team not influence one another. News must remain factual and unbiased; the Opinion team, well, has opinions. But reporters might use the interview to provide quotes and define issues that can guide campaign coverage.

As mentioned, we were fortunate to meet with both candidates one day after the primary. Herrera Beutler, a Republican, is completing her fifth term as a representative; Long, a Democrat, also advanced to the general election two years ago and gave Herrera Beutler her most difficult reelection test thus far. Because of the name recognition and fundraising ability of both candidates, we were fairly certain they would advance out of the five-person primary, and they combined to receive about 96 percent of the vote.

The resulting 90-minute interview highlighted the differences between the candidates. It touched upon Congress’ response to the coronavirus pandemic, tax policy, racial justice, President Trump and health care, with various other topics weaving in and out of the discussion. The most passionate disagreements came toward the end of the meeting, when the candidates were asked about health care policy.

In the end, it was clear that constituents can choose between two thoughtful, informed candidates for Congress, and we recommend that voters watch the video at www.columbian.com/election to get insight that is not available in campaign mailers or TV ads.

Most important, we recommend that the candidates find a forum for a series of debates. Two years ago, the editorial board also met with Herrera Beutler and Long the day after the primary, and that was the only time during the campaign that they made an expansive joint appearance. One meeting was held at a small restaurant in Woodland, there was a short appearance in Goldendale, and Herrera Beutler declined to participate in a debate organized by the local League of Women Voters.

The public deserves better. During a troubled time for our nation, voters must be privy to as much information as possible about the candidates and how they will help us move forward.

Herrera Beutler and Long had a spirited discussion with the editorial board last week. We hope it is the first of many.

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