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Originally published Sunday, September 21, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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James Vesely / Times editorial page editor

The endorsement game: how the process works

The Seattle Times editorial board will endorse candidates in about 40 races for public office this fall, starting today with the paper's...

Times editorial page Editor

The Seattle Times editorial board will endorse candidates in about 40 races for public office this fall, starting today with the paper's restatement that Sen. Barack Obama is the best choice for president of the United States.

Before you reach for your mouse and keyboard to shoot me a line or toss a hand grenade, it's useful to ask why newspapers put themselves through this trouble every year and why, in an age of a million specks of information, we bother?

I think the answer comes from the nature of a newspaper as a citizen of the republic and as the most intensely local voice in town.

As newspapers are hammered with a new economic fulcrum that is making us less profitable, less relevant and less read in print, something else is emerging. We have more readers than ever, but their noses are at their screens instead of inside the folds of newsprint.

In the coming weeks, these editorial and opinion pages will take up new space and new duties online as part of seattletimes.com. But in the meantime, this historic and unpredictable election will give us a chance to communicate with both average people and political wonks about the ideas behind recommending some candidates over others.

Since August, we have been meeting the new candidates and reacquainting ourselves with the incumbents. Nearly everyone knows the top races this year — after president and vice-president — are between the candidates for governor and the Eastside's congressional seat now held by Republican Dave Reichert and closely challenged by Democrat Darcy Burner.

The Times' editorial board will help support and participate in candidate debates for those offices, as well as the race for attorney general, at locations in the region and on the east side of the state.

Those are the obvious races that will have a lot to say about our state over the next four years. But here are the other races and questions to voters everyone should be paying attention to as October nears and the intensity of the campaigns increase:

• Superintendent of public instruction: Terry Bergeson has been in office 12 years — during the storm over the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, or WASL, and the fight over funding for public education. She's facing a qualified opponent in Randy Dorn, who, like Bergeson, has a union background.

This is high stakes over the nature of testing in our schools, the person who essentially represents public education and is the face of teachers, parents and students. The race is intense, the incumbent is under attack as never before and the outcome is not apparent.

• Commissioner of public lands: Presiding over nearly 6 million acres of public land, the race for the commissioner's spot emerged from the August primary nearly even between incumbent Republican Doug Sutherland, a former Pierce County executive, and Democrat Peter Goldmark of Eastern Washington. Sutherland is facing a good challenger and has a few ink spots on his résumé this time. Still, a very close race.

Each of these candidates will be asked by reporters and editorial writers to tell us how the state will fare in the next four years, and how voters can be expected to entrust them with the powers of their offices. The Times editorial board meets, we listen and talk, we argue, we make recommendations to readers. We understand fervent Democrats will vote their way, fervent Republicans, their way.

As always, The Times will be somewhere in the middle — because the state is nearly carved up by the two parties into gerrymandered regions, the choices often are predictable when a party abdicates a race.

But in the tussles listed above, the choices are not clear, not foregone, and the outcomes up to you, not us.

James F. Vesely's column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: jvesely@seattletimes.com; for a podcast Q&A with the author, go to Opinion at www.seattletimes.com/edcetera

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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