A ballot full of choices

Umatilla County elections manager Kim Lindell shows off the new ballot-counting machines to Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson on Thursday during a tour of the elections division at the Umatilla County Courthouse in Pendleton.

It’s not even Christmas but we got exactly what we asked for this year.

In a few weeks, Umatilla County voters will receive a ballot in the mail that offers some real choices of nonpartisan candidates for city councilor positions in Pendleton and Hermiston, as well as commissioner seats in county government.

While we have noted an increased interest in running for local elected office, finding such a wealth of options — especially in Hermiston, where all four seats are contested — is a real treat.

Some take this to mean we’re opposed to the currently elected leaders. Not so. We know serving on a city council especially is often a thankless (and practically non-paying) job, where you’re asked to provide direction for an entire city in areas outside your own expertise. Missteps, real or perceived, aren’t quickly forgotten and the mundane accomplishments of municipal leadership are easy to overlook.

What we are opposed to is the job going to the person who simply raises their hand. It adds credibility to the position when voters can try to work out which candidate’s résumé and personality would make them a better fit for the position — and that alone makes residents more knowledgeable and interested in their local governments, the issues impacting it and the people making the final decision. Competitive races often stimulates debate, and at the very least they draw interest.

So in the coming weeks, we will get to know the people who have raised their hands as best we can. Some we’ve talked to many times, others are newcomers interested in front-line civic engagement.

We hope you take the same opportunity. On Wednesday, April 11 the Hermiston council and Umatilla County commissioner candidates will speak at a forum at Armand Larive Middle School, and on Thursday, April 19 the Pendleton council and county commissioner candidates will speak at a forum at Pendleton High School.

And if you’re turned off by the state of politics in 2018, you’re in luck. As we noted, these are nonpartisan jobs. Any serious candidate will focus on what they can do to make the city or county better, not their support or displeasure with the machinations of Salem or D.C. For the people who live here, these conversations will have a direct and immediate impact on their lives.

There will be other decisions for voters to make as well, including whether to create a taxpayer-funded OSU Extension Service District and who to put in the judge’s chambers of the Circuit Court, 6th District (local attorneys Rob Collins and Michael Breiling have filed for the seat vacated by Lynn Hampton). And for those registered Democrats and Republicans, there are some additional opportunities to be heard. A competitive field of Ds have formed to try to defeat U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, while the Rs have fielded a handful of candidates interested in the Oregon governor’s mansion.

We’ll continue to cover all of it ahead of the May 15 election, and encourage local voters not to wait until election day to learn about the candidates and issues before them.

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