Today we start a series of editorials in which we will recommend how you vote on local issues right down the crammed Nov. 8 ballot, from your congressional representative to your legislative representatives to ballot measures, city council, school boards and water board.
As members of the media we have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with candidates, to fashion questions to put to them, to track their records and to assess their apparent leadership skills.
It’s not that every voter might not be able to do the same, but most simply don’t have the time.
We believe we owe it to you to deliver the best accounting we can of those who seek your vote.
Our recommendations are based not only on information we’ve succeeded in gathering, but also on a set of standards about which we want to inform our readers before we endorse. It seems only fair that you know what we’re measuring candidates by.
We believe those seeking the public trust cannot prove themselves worthy without displaying character, competency and civility.
Failure to sufficiently display these qualities is, we believe, what has turned this year’s presidential race into a circus, a sad state of affairs for an office once graced by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who displayed those qualities in abundance.
Regarding character, we start with the Josephson Institute of Ethics’ list of character traits – trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship – and add political character expectations of public accountability/transparency and a humble respect for this nation’s institutions coupled with a dedication to employing them for the public good.
We’re talking about honesty and honor, and we believe Santa Clarita Valley voters should expect these characteristics in their representatives.
Competency is admittedly easier to prove for an incumbent with a track record in office than for a candidate who hasn’t yet held public office. But candidates can display competency in other areas of public service.
We would like to say civility – that is, behaving with courtesy and respect – is self-explanatory, but we find it increasingly scarce – and the lack of civility to be a characteristic more encouraged by today’s society than discouraged, particularly in the political arena.
Yet civility is important to provide a setting in which issues may be rationally discussed and solutions intelligently arrived at. We are proud to say we’ve seen some honorable examples of civility on the campaign trail this season, and we will tell you about them in our endorsements.
We want to inform you we will not report candidates’ shortcomings unless we’ve established the truthfulness of such failings to journalistic standards. But we will not tolerate, and we will not endorse, candidates who prefer to sling mud rather than discuss issues.
Negative campaigning violates both character and civility in our trio of expectations – and we believe it is responsible for much of the cynicism with which the public now regards politics.
Entire playbooks on negative campaigning have been written and are being followed by some of our local candidates.
These candidates are apparently not above using deception and sometimes outright lying to gain your vote, compromising their own integrity in the process.
How would any candidate so compromising his or her character and so violating civility be worthy of your vote? We don’t believe he or she would be.
Negative campaigning steals time and attention from the real issues of the race – those that the candidate will be elected to address – and thus clouds information about candidates’ competency. It builds undeserved distrust based on innuendo or falsehood, fostering cynicism and disenchantment that prevent voters from making informed decisions.
This year’s presidential race has provided local mud-slinging candidates with some particularly low-hanging fruit: what they see as an opportunity to sully their opponents with that person’s party’s presidential choice.
We can see no way that any candidates in SCV races can be held accountable for the choices of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton as presidential nominee. Raising the issue in local races is just another form of negative campaigning.
Before we move on to our specific endorsements, we would like to pause and note that modern technology provides opportunities for anonymous and particularly vicious mud-slinging in the form of social media, which we believe has been employed in some local races in the past.
It’s hard to prove to standards of journalistic certainty due to the ephemeral nature of the medium, but should we succeed we pledge to report such information so voters may know the character of those who seek to represent them, and the character of those they hire to work for them.
Coming Friday: Endorsements for state Senate Assembly races.