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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Columns

Jayne: Get involved with local elections

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Page Editor
Published: July 25, 2021, 6:02am

Confession time: Yes, we have used this quote before. But until somebody says it better, we’ll keep turning to something Kim Wyman told The Columbian’s Editorial Board a few years ago:

“The thing that’s frustrating is that voters turn out in droves for the presidential election, for a whole host of reasons,” Washington’s secretary of state said. “The president of the United States doesn’t really affect your daily life that much.

“But the people who do — the port commissioners and the city council members and the school board directors — are literally making decisions that affect your daily life, from the quality of your roads, to the books your kids read in school, to how fast a first responder gets to you. Those decisions are made in these elections and, ironically, these have the lowest turnout.”

All of which seems pertinent with an odd-year election upon us. Those are the elections which do not include legislators or congressional representatives or presidents … but they matter. They matter so much that every eligible voter should study the candidates and cast an informed ballot. Because voting is more effective than simply complaining about taxes after the fact.

That exhortation, however, points out the conundrum of odd-year elections — it can be difficult to be informed. Most races are nonpartisan, meaning you don’t have the fallback position of voting for an R or a D, and most of the candidates are not well known. Fox News is not profiling the challengers for Vancouver City Council.

While The Columbian reports on local races and the Editorial Board interviews candidates and offers recommendations, it can be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Which brings us to a couple ways to assess candidates you might not be familiar with: Endorsements and donations.

Most candidates have campaign websites that include a list of people who have endorsed them. The cynics among us might eschew such suggestions. Why should we care, after all, whether or not Slats Grobnik supports a particular candidate?

But endorsements can be helpful in assessing a political figure — especially when we don’t know whether the candidate is a Republican or a Democrat. Endorsements can provide some insight into where a candidate stands on the issues, and whether they should be taken seriously. If there is a local official or community leader you typically agree with and they support a candidate, that can be informative.

So, too, can the list of donations, which is available from the Washington Public Disclosure Commission. In 1972, Washington voters approved the commission with 72 percent of the vote, deciding that, “The public’s right to know of the financing of political campaigns and lobbying and the financial affairs of elected officials and candidates far outweighs any right that these matters remain secret and private.”

Candidates must register with the commission and report their campaign donations. Some choose the mini-campaign option, which does not require them to report donations provided they do not exceed a minimum — which in itself tells you something about the candidate.

Take the race for Position 3 on the Vancouver City Council, which has three strong candidates in Diana Perez, David Gellatly and Glen Yung.

Perez had raised $42,000 as of the last reporting period, with a maximum contribution of $2,000 coming from a local firefighters union and a whole bunch coming from small, individual donors. Gellatly had raised $10,000, with the bulk of it coming from Kirkland Development, Hurley Development and Angelo Properties. At $2,000 apiece, the developers have provided 60 percent of Gellatly’s funding. Yung had raised $30,000, almost exclusively from small individual donors.

That might or might not matter to you. But in an election where the incumbent is not seeking reelection and where the candidates are not household names, endorsements and donations are important.

After all, the winner will affect your daily life.