Listening to the high priests of partisan punditry, a person might surmise this year’s midterm election will alter the course of western civilization.
The first Tuesday of November 2018, one might conclude, could be a historic watershed to rival the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
It could be as momentous as the wrong turn by Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s carriage driver that launched World War I. It could be a game changer on par with the Seattle Seahawks drafting quarterback Russell Wilson.
All hyperbole aside, you’ll get no argument from me about the national importance of these midterms.
Voters have the power to reverse or continue the tide of distress and dysfunction unleashed on the second Tuesday of November 2016.
But my goal today is to draw attention to a different date, the first Tuesday in August, when every South Sound voter should cast an informed ballot in the primary election.
Over the next few weeks, the TNT Editorial Board will offer our primary election endorsements; in most cases, we recommend two candidates to advance to the Nov. 6 runoff.
We trust you’ll view these endorsements not as tablets brought down from Mount Sinai, but as the joint opinion of five fellow voters — a consensus reached through a mix of interviews, research, debate and gut feeling.
Setting aside summer distractions is hard. I get that. Since 2007, when the Legislature moved up Washington’s primary date from mid-September, turnout has plunged and only hit 40 percent twice.
Politics in July can feel like a pesky yellow jacket at a backyard barbecue. I don’t know anybody whose beach reading list includes the voters pamphlet or TNT endorsements.
But we fought hard to get this election system, so we should darn well use it. After a decade bouncing between the blanket primary and pick-a-party primary, Washingtonians adopted the top-two model by voter initiative in 2004.
The top two primary finishers move on to the general election, even if they’re both Republicans or Democrats. It’s a fair-and-square way to make the first cut of candidates before those pivotal midterms. It shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Ballots will be mailed July 20. Here’s a primer on what to expect from us during election season.
What’s the TNT’s primary election endorsement schedule?
▪ July 13: Legislative District 25 (Puyallup area); two House seats.
▪ July 15: Legislative District 26 (Gig Harbor-Peninsula area); two House seats and one Senate seat.
▪ July 19: Legislative District 29 (South Tacoma-Lakewood-Parkland-Spanaway area); one House seat.
▪ July 20: Legislative District 30 (Federal Way area) and District 31 (northeast Pierce-southeast King county).
▪ July 22: Pierce County Council District 1 (East Pierce) and District 5 (Eastside and South End Tacoma, Midland, Parkland, Spanaway).
Note: All dates refer to when endorsements will appear in print; they typically publish online a day earlier.
What won’t the Editorial Board be endorsing before the primary?
There are nine additional contested local legislative seats, but only two candidates filed for each, so we’ll wait until fall to interview them.
That’s also when we’ll meet with both candidates for Pierce County Council District 7 and — in the marquee matchup of the year — the county prosecutor election.
As for Congress and U.S. Senate, voters will have to handle primary election winnowing duties without us. So many people want to serve in the other Washington — 28 challengers filed to run against Sen. Maria Cantwell, for instance — that the logistics of vetting them proved impossible for us.
We plan to interview the finalists for Senate and four local congressional seats this fall.
How can the Editorial Board vouch for the integrity of candidates it endorses?
Every election season,we read up on candidates and spend dozens of hours interviewing them in person. We also closely follow political newsmakers throughout the year when they’re not running for office.
But some fastballs get past us, in part because newsrooms are shrinking and don’t have the investigative resources they once did. That’s why for the last two years we’ve joined forces with Verify More, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in Bellevue.
Verify More works with a national background screening company to do a 10-year criminal and civil background check on candidates, plus a resume vetting and (new this year) a social media scrub.
While Verify More continues to expands its profile, we’re proud to be its original news media partner.
Candidates are free not to sign up for the screening, just as they’re free not to sit down and talk with us. But opting out raises our doubts and weighs heavily in endorsement deliberations.
We like to think of political candidates as job applicants and our Editorial Board as a sort of HR department. Voters are the board of directors, but instead of a company, you oversee a democracy.
Would you hire someone who resists a background check and doesn’t consent to a job interview?
Matt Misterek is editorial page editor of The News Tribune. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org