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Vital needs must take precedence

Oregon voters cannot allow the negativity and vitriol of this election season to distract them from what's immediately important.

In the weeks leading up to the Nov. 4 general election, voters have maintained an encouraging level of interest in this campaign, even as candidates and their attack-dog consultants have tried to sour them on all things political.

Despite the mountains of insult-filled direct-mail pieces that have landed in their mailboxes - and in spite of the millions of dollars spent on negative television advertising that only demeans the process - Oregon voters are poised to participate in the November election in numbers never before recorded.

This year - in part because of the nation's economic freefall - we believe irrelevant negativism largely is falling on deaf ears and that voters will consider the candidates and issues with a newfound seriousness.

As Oregon's mail-in balloting comes down to its final days, voters should concentrate even more intently on specific races and issues that can make a significant difference in the direction of the state and nation. With that in mind, here are some principles - and recommendations - that we consider to be of greatest importance:

• Balance is vital in our political system. For that reason, we continue to recommend re-election of Republican Gordon Smith to the U.S. Senate.

On Nov. 4, the nation's voters are highly likely to elect Democrat Barack Obama as president, ushering in a needed change from the policies of the Bush administration.

At the same time, Democrats will make substantial gains in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. But for Oregon and the nation, it is best to maintain some counterweight to total Democratic control. And for this state, in particular, it is healthy to have two senators who can fairly represent Oregon's rural as well as urban interests.

• Integrity is important in the candidates we send to Congress, which means that voters in Oregon's 5th Congressional District, which includes much of Clackamas County, must reject Republican Mike Erickson in favor of Democrat Kurt Schrader. In this campaign, Erickson once more has failed to demonstrate the minimal qualities of transparency and honesty that ought to be expected of a candidate for Congress.

• Investing in education is the right thing to do when the economy is ailing. Portland-area voters should approve Measure 26-95, which would authorize Portland Community College to sell $374 million in bonds to improve its campuses and technology and make more room to teach people of all ages.

• Protecting society's most vulnerable also is a necessity during an economic downturn. To make sure that Portland's neediest children don't fall behind in their preparation for school, the city's voters should renew the Children's Investment Fund, which appears on the ballot as Measure 26-94.

• Along the same lines, many Oregon residents will be harmed if basic state services are not kept in place during the recession.

To protect state safety-net programs from even deeper cutbacks than they otherwise must endure, voters should reject two measures on the November ballot that would blow the biggest holes in the state budget: Measure 59, which would allow residents to deduct more of their federal taxes on their state returns, and Measure 61, which would require the state to spend billions on new prison space.

Portland-area voters certainly have many other choices to make in this election. The outcomes of most of those campaigns - whether they involve City Council races or attempts to upgrade the Oregon Zoo - aren't insignificant. But they also aren't essential to Oregon's ability to succeed.