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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion

Our View: Summertime civics

The Spokesman-Review

Pam Behring ran unsuccessfully for Spokane City Council president in 2003 against Dennis Hession and Al French. Behring remembers participating in at least five candidate forums that fall, hosted by service clubs and neighborhood groups. By the primary election Sept. 16, Behring and other primary-election candidates were exhausted.

Behring is a board member for Spokane’s League of Women Voters. The group is sponsoring a candidate forum today, beginning at 5:30 p.m., with the candidates running for mayor, City Council president and three City Council seats in Spokane. Behring was saddened, but not surprised, to hear that the forum could be the only chance citizens get to hear the council candidates talk about the issues together in public. (The mayoral candidates have a few additional forums scheduled.)

The reason? The Washington primary will be held Aug. 21. Military ballots go out July 20. All other ballots will begin to be mailed Aug. 1. Unfortunately, citizens are in summer mode, not election mode.

“People haven’t realized this is going to get decided before they even get home from the lake,” said Ann Murphy, League president.

Civic and neighborhood groups who usually sponsor forums are operating in summer mode, too. Some don’t even meet in July and August. Others maintain a lighter meeting schedule, because attendance usually falls off in these warm months.

This means that citizens must work a little harder this primary election. Answer the door when candidates come doorbelling. Read campaign material instead of ditching it in the trash. And the closer we get to Aug. 21, expect more people to pipe up (including this editorial board) with advice about which candidates seem best-suited to office.

Voters who wish to evaluate that advice and make an informed decision should search out opportunities to collect firsthand information, not just take others’ word for who’s most qualified. CityCable 5 is scheduled to cablecast tonight’s forum more than a dozen times in July and August. And perhaps some civic and neighborhood groups have forums in the works. Let us know.

Behring learned from her firsthand experience as a candidate that primary election forums are especially important for nonincumbents. “It’s critical to getting name recognition,” she said. It’s also an invaluable way for a little-known candidate to explain his or her credentials and proposals.

Meanwhile, here’s one more incentive. The temperatures are expected to flirt with the triple digits today. In City Council Chambers, the air conditioning works just fine.

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