Electioneering in the valley got off to an earlier start than usual this year, especially in the races for seats on the Twisp Town Council and a seat on the Okanogan County Fire District 6 board of commissioners. In each case, an incumbent has a challenger.
With two months to go before the Nov. 5 general election, and ballots going in the mail around Oct. 18, the campaigning is likely to ratchet up in the coming weeks.
We’re paying attention to the races with our usual focus on providing as much coverage and helpful information as possible. There are three ways that occurs: in news stories, in campaign advertising, and in letters to the editor. In the interests of clarity, I’d like to reiterate how each of those information sources works in the Methow Valley News.
• News stories. We’re developing a schedule of thorough coverage for each race, intending to wrap that up before ballots are mailed. We’ll ask the candidates similar questions about their qualifications, motivation, expectations for the office and campaign finances. Fair and equal treatment is our goal. If we ask hard questions — and we probably will — it will be with the interests of the voters in mind. I don’t care about hurting candidates’ feelings. I don’t care if they think we’re being too tough on them. I do care if a candidate seems to be evasive or unwilling to provide appropriate responses.
We will also cover candidate forums. These are not ideal for learning about candidates because each has a limited time to respond to questions, but they can help voters get to know the candidates better, and force the candidates to take public positions on pertinent issues.
To head off a frequent question right now: No, we do not allow candidates or anyone else to read the stories before we publish them. We will follow up with questions about anything we think needs verification or more clarity.
That brings us to fact checking. We will be as aggressive as we can in holding candidates accountable for their claims. We won’t put up with the kind of fakery that some politicians seem to think is now acceptable. If you say it, you had better be ready to prove it.
• That brings us to the opinion page. It seems like I have to repeat this over and over, but here goes, again: It’s called the opinion page for a reason. We print a wide range of views, and despite what some uninformed yakkers in the community claim, we print nearly all of the acceptable letters we receive. Printing something on the opinion page is not — experience tells me I have to stress this — NOT the same as endorsing that view. The general guidelines for letters are that the writers have a legitimate local connection or interest, that the letters not exceed 350 words, that they do not include libelous comments, that they are civil in tone, and that they are subject to editing. Letter writers are allowed one submission a month — that gives you the rest of September and all of November to contribute. We like filling up the opinion pages with letters during election season.
We give letter writers a lot of latitude to express their opinions, but if we think something is egregiously inaccurate or misleading, we’ll deal with it. We absolutely will not print any form letters that we identify (we’re pretty good at it). We want them to be original.
As for this particular space, whether it be an editorial or a column like this one, it’s strictly me voicing my own views. The news and opinion functions of the newspaper are separate. We’ll cover the elections aggressively but fairly. If there’s something I want to say about how I think things are going — and I surely will — this is where that will happen. Not in news coverage.
• Political advertising. We encourage it, for a couple of reasons: Obviously, we appreciate the business. We offer a 15% discount from the usual advertising pricing for political ads. We do reach a ready and receptive audience. And it’s an opportunity for the candidates to get their messages across in their own words. That said, the state’s Public Disclosure Commission requires us to be accountable for the ads’ content. A small point that we’ve made a few times already: while we will include candidate forums in the weekly calendar of events, we won’t include individual candidates’ meet-and-greets and the like. We consider that campaigning.
It’s pretty clear that things are heating up. We’ll do our best to stay on top of that.