July 25, 2005 in Opinion

It’s time to focus on the candidates

The Spokesman-Review

Elective politics has taken a battering in Washington state in 2005, but it could have been worse.

The endless 2004 gubernatorial contest might still be dragging on if Republican candidate Dino Rossi hadn’t decided against further appeals once a trial court judge had rejected his challenge to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s election.

Secretary of State Sam Reed exercised similar discretion this month when he opted not to ask the courts to stay a decision invalidating the “top-two” primary system that was scheduled to be used for the first time in September.

Reed may still appeal the ruling, but rather than risk the confusion that lingering litigation might pose to September’s approaching primary, the state can default to the so-called Montana system provided by the Legislature for just such a situation.

So as candidates for city, school district and other mostly local offices line up this week to put a collective face on the upcoming campaign season, there will be fewer worrisome distractions, and voters will be able to concentrate more on the identities and qualities of the individuals who offer themselves for public scrutiny and less on whether the whole ritual is going to wind up in court.

There’s enough distrust about politics as it is. Cynicism levels were high even before the Gregoire-Rossi struggle revealed glaring flaws in the way elections are managed across the state. Washington doesn’t need any more sideshows for a while.

Better to concentrate on the core values that will be on display, today through Friday, at elections offices in Spokane and 38 other Washington counties.

Every time a candidate for a city council or a school board signs the form and pays the filing fee, it represents a commitment to the democratic process by which communities govern themselves. Plenty of seasoned candidates will be on the list, along with a smattering of new faces who come from different backgrounds to offer fresh ideas.

Entering a political race is no small step, considering how wide candidates open the door on their lives. By running for public office they invite the community to inspect them and test them, to challenge their intelligence and question their motives. They volunteer to be judged and maybe rejected – to fail while the spotlight shines on them.

The rest of us have important roles to play, too. Voting, of course, but more than that.

A political campaign produces good outcomes in direct proportion to how clearly and substantively the candidates explain themselves and how inquisitively and thoughtfully voters listen. And after that, how energetically they join in civic dialogue about the relative merits of the candidates and their ideas.

Political activities don’t normally heat up until about Labor Day, but by then there are only a couple of weeks before the primary election at which some campaigns end abruptly.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The people who are stepping forth this week have all of August to make themselves, their platforms and their qualifications known. If they do that much, voters owe them their engaged attention in return.

If the voters and candidates take their jobs seriously, the courts can turn their attention to other matters.

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