Saturday, February 4, 2023
Feb. 4, 2023

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From the Newsroom: Can you guess what season it is?

By , Columbian Editor

School’s almost out, the fireworks sales tents are going up and the local TV weather personalities are talking about fire danger instead of snow levels. Spring is over; bring on … election season.

That’s right, our primary election is coming up Aug. 3. You’ll get your ballot in just about a month. We need to get started now on the coverage.

Although the presidential election years draw the most attention, it’s the odd-numbered years like 2021 that feature the local races that are arguably the most important to our everyday lives. Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle has a lot more influence upon bike lanes and police body cameras in Vancouver than President Joe Biden. And odd-numbered years are the ones where we choose school board members to oversee our children’s public education.

Since local candidates don’t buy TV ads, their names are likely to be less known to you than Jaime Herrera Beutler’s. And because most of the races are nonpartisan, you can’t vote the straight Republican (or Democrat) ticket. That means we here at The Columbian have a big responsibility to find out about the candidates and inform our readers about where they stand on the issues.

It will be a big job. I counted 19 contested races on this year’s primary ballot, including some in Vancouver, Battle Ground, Camas, La Center, Washougal, Yacolt, Hockinson, Hazel Dell/Salmon Creek and Fire District 5, which has a lot of taxpayers living north of central/east Vancouver.

With 65 candidates to research, we’ll cover the races in a couple of different ways on the news side. First, we’ll email questionnaires, asking candidates about themselves and where they stand on issues affecting the agency they wish to help govern. For example, we might ask Hockinson school board candidates about online vs. in-person classes, and La Center City Council candidates about what they think about outsourcing the police department. We’ll also ask them to name their top issues.

We’ll follow up with interviews on a number of the races in larger jurisdictions, and check Public Disclosure Commission filings to see which candidates are attracting money and from whom.

All of this is normal journalist stuff, but it’s really, really important. We want to give Camas voters information to help them choose between Geoerl W. Niles, Marilyn Dale-Boerke, Gary Perman and Shawn High for city council, Ward 1, Position 2, for example. By telling people where each stands on, say, fire services consolidation or siting substance abuse rehab centers in a residential zone, voters can choose the candidates that best reflect their views.

Some candidates probably won’t agree to share their ideas with us, and, by extension, the voters. That should tell you a lot about them right there.

The role of opinion

In seven of the highest-profile races, we will offer our editorial opinion to voters. Before we do this, we will invite candidates to meet with our editorial board, which consists of me, Editorial Page Editor Greg Jayne and three of the Campbell family owners of The Columbian, including Publisher Ben Campbell. Since these interviews are conducted “on the record,” a reporter will likely sit in but won’t ask questions.

The board members will spend about an hour questioning the candidates. We generally like to do group interviews, so candidates can engage their opponents. Before we arrive at our endorsements, we spend time discussing what each candidate said during the interview and other things they have said and done during the campaign, including what they share on social media.

For the primary, we will generally endorse two candidates per race, since the top two will move forward to November. Then we’ll give our favorite candidate a solo endorsement before the general election.

Due to COVID-19, I’m not sure yet whether we’ll do the editorial board interviews in person or via an online group chat. Either way, we plan to continue our practice of recording the interviews and posting them online for the general public to view on our elections page, That page is already live, by the way, so be sure to check it out when you’re not celebrating graduation, the Fourth of July or enjoying the warm, dry summer weather.

While you are doing those things, we’ll gather the information you need about the races and the candidates, and have it there waiting for you before Election Day.