PD Editorial: How we will make our endorsements for the Nov. 8 election

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In the coming days, we will begin rolling out our recommendations for the Nov. 8 election, one that certainly will be memorable both for its breadth — voters will be deciding on everything from school board positions to the next occupant of the Oval Office — as well as its length — 17 state propositions alone will be on the ballot.

However, as much as these kinds of endorsements are a part of our nation’s history, so are questions about whether newspapers should engage in such a practice. Those of us who oversee the opinion pages see it as part of our obligation to engage in a civic dialogue and to share what information we gather about candidates and the political positions to which they aspire. Our desire is not to tell readers what to think but to give them material that, we hope, will help them form their own thoughtful decisions. In our view, this is particularly needed in an age where voters are inundated with election material, much of it from sources who are either paid to deliver recommendations or have a vested interest in the outcome.

We also often receive questions about our endorsement process, how we evaluate candidates and what criteria we use to form our decisions. Today, we will try to answer some of these questions.

First, as has been our practice, we will be meeting with candidates on an individual basis, through interviews lasting about 45 minutes. These interviews will be conducted by our Editorial Board, which includes Sonoma Media Investments CEO Steve Falk, Editorial Director Paul Gullixson, Assistant Editorial Director Jim Sweeney and Community Member Mike Lopez. (We also have another community member position that we will be filling soon.) In addition, we will be attending or viewing recordings of candidate forums, reading election materials and gathering what information we can from all sources. Yes, it is very much like a hiring process. We think voters should think of it as such as well.

As usual, we will be evaluating candidates based on their experience, knowledge of the position they’re seeking and their demonstrated ability to communicate clearly, to use sound judgment and to set aside their own self-interests — as well as commitment to any particular ideology — for the betterment of the community. In addition, we will be paying particular attention to how candidates respond in these three key areas:

Housing and homelessness: Given escalating rents, soaring housing prices and low inventory, few issues will be higher on the agenda for most local public agencies than these. Elected officials will be struggling to help those caught in this crisis, find sites for new housing projects, particularly for low-income residents, all while struggling to differentiate between those neighborhood concerns that are legitimate and those that are really just NIMBYism.

Pensions: As recently outlined by a citizens’ advisory committee, Sonoma County faces an estimated $741 million in extra pension costs between now and 2030. That’s an average of $53 million each year that could go to services. Meanwhile, cities are likely going to have to pony up more for retirement benefits as well given the poor returns last year by California Public Employees’ Retirement System investments. In addition to wanting to understand how candidates view this problem, we will be evaluating ballot measures based on how they would improve or compound this long-term financial dilemma.

Transparency: Our desire will be to determine how much candidates understand California’s longstanding commitment to open government and the obligations of elected officials under the Brown Act and the California Public Records Act. In particular we will be listening to hear, where appropriate, how candidates respond to specific hot-button issues such as public access to recordings from police body cameras.

Of course, there will be other issues that will guide our evaluations as well, such as candidates’ perspectives on land-use concerns and job development, changing demographics and finding funding where it doesn’t exist for basic needs — from school supplies to road repairs.

As usual, after our editorials appear in print, they will be available online at pressdemocrat.com. We also will be summarizing them on our recommendations list starting in early October.

We hope you find these editorials helpful, and we trust you will let us know when you think we have gotten it wrong. Such engagement benefits us all.

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