Oregon's May 20 primary is three weeks away, and in a state that votes by mail, that means decision time is coming even sooner.
A sure sign that the political season is upon us is the sight of city, county and legislative candidates walking door-to-door in local neighborhoods. Not far behind will be direct-mail pieces espousing a candidate's virtues or exposing his or her opponent's supposed flaws.
This is the way elections are conducted in Oregon - through a combination of personal contact, mass mailings, media coverage and the occasional live political forum. Despite all that activity, these campaigns rarely shed adequate light on what candidates actually believe or how they would behave if elected to office.
Don't settle for platitudes
For example, how many candidates for the Oregon Legislature in the past 20 years have run on a platform that education must come first? We would say nearly all of them have done so. But how many, once in office, have found it's more difficult than they thought to specifically provide for well-funded, high-performing schools, colleges and universities?
Likewise, how many times have voters heard city, county and legislative candidates say they'll never support new taxes - that all that's required is greater government efficiency and accountability?
This year's primary and general elections are too critical to Oregon's future to allow candidates to campaign on clichés, innuendo and a platform that lacks leadership specifics.
While some voters may be less in tune with the May primary than with the November general election, they should realize that some candidates may run without opposition from another political party in November. That means the primary election will decide who will be elected - so the time to pay attention is now.
Do they understand key issues?
To make informed choices - in both May and November - voters must understand what candidates truly stand for and what they specifically plan to do if elected. All candidates ought to be able, at a minimum, to describe in detail their positions on the following issues:
n Oregon and Washington County's economy is likely to follow the nation's lead and glide in a downward path. Candidates must say how they would respond to a decline in state and local revenues and what they would do to stimulate the economy.
n On the topic of education, candidates for the Legislature cannot simply say schools are their top priority. They must describe what level of funding they support for K-12 schools, community colleges and universities.
n The state, Washington County and local cities' underfunded transportation systems are a concern. What are candidates willing to do to address this need?
n Legislative candidates must go beyond recognizing that health care is nearing a crisis for many Oregonians. What would they do to improve access to medical care, and how would they pay for it?
Beyond these issues, potential legislators must be ready to take specific positions on economic development, land-use reform and the environment, including Oregon's carbon footprint.
The concerns that come before candidates are myriad, but no one should be elected to any office without being able to demonstrate a solid and specific understanding of the choices they will be asked to make.