COLUMN: Endorsements just one part of political conversation

Starting this week, the Malheur Enterprise will be voicing its opinion about selected measures and candidates for office. I’d like to explain our process.

Our endorsements are meant to just add another voice to the public debate on these matters. We have no illusion that anyone will use our endorsements as their checklist when they start marking ballots, which start landing in mailboxes soon.

Rather, we hope to add perspective and information for voters to consider. At the newspaper, we spend a lot of time covering local issues and local people. That sets the stage for our endorsements – understanding what’s been happening, who’s been effective and who’s been ineffective in tackling community issues.

Then, we launch into our election coverage. This proceeds on two parallel tracks.

The first track is our reporting on local races and issues. Reporters Kristine de Leon and Pat Caldwell have been gathering information for weeks. They are talking to those involved in the ballot measures, particularly the one lifting Ontario’s marijuana ban, and they interview those running for office. They will be producing news reports resulting from their work.

While that’s in progress, the endorsement process is underway. As publisher, the ultimate responsibility for the newspaper’s opinions rests with me. To inform those opinions, I talk with people separately from the news team. I’m not so much conducting an interview as much as having an informal conversation. I’m probing people for their understanding of issues, their basis for that understanding, and the clarity they have about those issues.

I try to imagine myself being a typical voter, having a candidate over to the house for coffee. I try to keep in mind what’s important for the voters, not important for the candidates or those involved in ballot measures. I’m always disappointed when candidates decide not to participate, and that does weigh in our ultimate choices.

I work hard to guard against prejudice in talking to the candidates. Anyone who’s watched the Enterprise knows we’ve tangled with Marty Justus, the Ontario councilor who now wants to be mayor. Yet in my conversation with Justus for editorial purposes, our talk focused on what’s really at issue – the future of Ontario. I listened closely to see how well Justus articulated his plan for that future.

The discussions with both supporters and opponents of the marijuana ban were, to say the least, challenging conversations. Those on both sides weren’t very happy with my tough questioning. Jaws clenched, faces got red, and in one instance one fellow stalked out of our office. In the end, such conduct doesn’t — and shouldn’t – influence where the Enterprise lands on this vital issue. Vigorous discussion is part of political life, and no one should take such discourse personally. I don’t.

In the end, I hope you’ll consider our endorsements the recommendations of a friend. You should, of course, make up your own mind. I’m hoping our editorials do stir you to think, to maybe consider elements you hadn’t thought of, and in the end to make thoughtful decisions about the future of your community. But I hope you find another perspective helpful.

And whether we agree, I trust that we all are working to make choices that answer the core question: What’s best for the community? And I trust we can have respectful disagreements and still remain on speaking terms. That’s a result too often lacking now in our country, and it’s one we should all embrace.

Les Zaitz is editor and publisher of the Enterprise.