Our Voice: Why the Herald editorial board recommends candidates

If this editorial looks familiar, that's because every year at about this point in the election season, we run some version of it.

On Monday, we'll start publishing the Herald's recommendations on the issues and candidates that voters will find on their ballot this year. It's about all you'll find in this space during the next few weeks.

Our first recommendation -- this year, it's on the proposal for a sales tax increase to pay for improvements at the Three Rivers Convention Center -- invariably prompts some reader complaints.

"Who gave you the right to tell us how to vote? Just give us the news and we'll decide how to vote for ourselves," is at the heart of most grievances we hear about our recommendations.

We will attempt to answer it, and try to do a better job of it than in previous years.

But first, why do we do it?

The best answer is that, as a group, our seven editorial board members have more exposure to more candidates. Unless your close friend or relative is on the ballot, we probably spent more time with the candidate we're recommending than you have. And more time with the opponent to boot.

Our judgments are a consensus of the board. That doesn't mean unanimous. When the logic of one side is obvious, the others accept it.

A former Herald publisher, Kelso Gillenwater, said 25 years ago that, "We want our editorial pages to be neither left nor right, Republican nor Democratic, but pragmatic. We want what seems best, in our judgment, for the community."

It's a tenet that continues to guide us, in every race and in every editorial.

Sometimes we err, of course, but guided by our goal of advocating for what we think is the best option for the Mid-Columbia, it's rare that we go far wrong.

Another reason we feel qualified to recommend candidates is that we invite them to come in and talk with us. Frequently, the Herald boardroom will be where opposing candidates meet each other for the first time.

We hear what they think of the issues, we ask our questions and after they have left we decide who we think made the better case.

Again, we are never under the delusion that we always get it right. Our decisions on who to recommend are almost never unanimous.

There's another reason we weigh in on elections. We think it would be unfair to you, our readers, if we expressed our views on everything else but ducked politics.

Frankly, it would be easier if we did. Some newspapers have taken that route, successfully avoiding controversy, but doing a disservice to their readers.

Nothing we do as a community during the next few weeks will be more important than deciding who will represent us on local commissions and councils.

If we don't have enough gumption to tell you our thoughts on a decision so essential to the well being of our community, then we probably don't have much worth saying about anything.

We're never surprised, although we are disappointed, to be told this is a Republican community and so we should never recommend Democrats for anything.

Our duty, as we see it, is to recommend the candidates we believe are best qualified to serve the community. That can't happen if we follow a strict party line.

Finally, we describe our election editorials as recommendations, rather than endorsements. The reason is simple -- the choices were suggesting are just that, our recommendations.

Our hope is that you'll find them useful in making up your mind on who to support. We'll try to provide enough about how we reached our decision to help you accept or reject our reasoning.

Of course, we're trying to sway your vote to the candidates we think are the best, but that's not the prime objective. Our goal is to make a meaningful contribution to the debate.

If our editorials help you make a decision, we've done our job, whether you vote for our choice our not.