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Originally published June 21, 2014 at 4:03 PM | Page modified June 23, 2014 at 11:49 AM

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How The Seattle Times editorial board makes election endorsements

Editorial Page Editor Kate Riley is calling on candidates to publicly post questionnaires political candidates send to organizations that endorse them.

Times editorial page editor

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Just as the long summer yawns before kids now getting out of school, citizens of voting age have some important homework piling up.

Election season is in full swing with campaign events in the guise of ice-cream socials, parties and, yes, even a gun giveaway. The latter is the jaw-dropping gimmick of the often-controversial Clint Didier, the farmer, former NFL star and perennial candidate for public office. The Eltopia Republican is running in a crowded field for the 4th Congressional District seat of the retiring U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco.

At least Didier is not leaving anyone to guess about his stance on guns in a state where voters will have a choice between two gun-related initiatives in November.

But for voters, discerning positions of candidates on issues is not so easy, especially as the party machines and powerful special-interest groups maneuver to make candidates obediently toe the line in return for endorsements and campaign cash. Some partisan campaign consultants, tempted to help anyone challenging an incumbent, already have been soundly corrected.

The result is that well-funded political organizations, who hand out campaign donations to buy ads to fill your TV, mailboxes and voice mail accounts, are more powerful than ever.

The Seattle Times editorial board is here to help. We will offer our recommendations to voters about candidates in federal, state and county elections and about ballot measures — just another factor for voters to consider as they do that homework.

Last week, we began interviews with candidates running for office. We will interview more than 100 before November. Along with other research into the candidates and the issues, the editorial board will publish recommendations for select races before the Aug. 5 primary ballots land in mailboxes in mid-July.

We measure candidates against a list of election filters we think are vital for elected officials. They vary depending on what offices candidates are seeking, but important qualities in any candidate are: independent thinking, solution-seeking, willingness to compromise and an authentic mission to serve all constituents, not just partisans, special interests or their campaign donors.

Our filters for legislative candidates, which will come as no surprise to regular readers of Times editorials, include:

• Education 3 to 23 — that means not only solving the state Supreme Court’s McCleary challenge in a way that includes reforms and possible new revenue, but also solid commitments to early learning and higher education.

• Budget sustainability and embrace of effective lean management approaches to state government.

• A pragmatic transportation package that, again, is accompanied by systemic reforms and serves the whole state.

Other high priorities are improving the state’s mental-health approaches and the fight to end sex trafficking and help victims.

For federal office, we are looking for candidates who show enough imagination and backbone to potentially break the interminable logjam in Congress. Beyond that, we look for a commitment to comprehensive immigration reform and responsible, robust international trade, both so important to our region. A desire to replace the No Child Left Behind law and a strong reluctance to getting a war-weary United States involved in leading any more foreign interventions are also important.

We know our endorsements are one factor for voters to consider — as are the endorsements of other organizations and special-interest groups.

To that end, The Seattle Times editorial board is asking candidates to share publicly the questionnaires they turn in to organizations that endorse them. This idea comes from John Diaz, editorial page editor of The San Francisco Chronicle, who said constituents were well-served by candidates who came clean before California’s June 3 primary.

Voters should know what specific promises candidates are making in questionnaires as they pitch their candidacies for endorsements that come with cash.

To make this manageable, we ask that candidates share the questionnaires for the organizations that endorse them. Best is if the candidates post the questionnaires on their campaign websites where they list endorsements, but they can also send them to us, and we will post links.

So far, the reaction has been mixed. Incumbent state Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, readily agreed last week in her endorsement meeting to do so; another incumbent, Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, was noncommittal.

If candidates make a promise in a questionnaire to get an endorsement, shouldn’t all of their constituents have that information? It’s vital information as voters do their homework before they fill out their ballots.

Kate Riley's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her email address is kriley@seattletimes.comOn Twitter @k8riley

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