Foon Rhee

The good, the bad and the ugly of our endorsement interviews

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a candidate for California governor, answers questions from The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board on April 12.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a candidate for California governor, answers questions from The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board on April 12. rbenton@sacbee.com

For the last two months, my colleagues and I have spent hours upon hours interviewing candidates in the June 5 primary in races from local school board all the way up to U.S. Senate.

Some days, hearing promises of “change” and “transparency” over and over got to be a grind. Some of the group endorsement interviews got a little testy – only verbal assaults, thank goodness.

But we also met candidates who reflect some very hopeful political trends that are playing out across America.

 
Opinion

It could well be another Year of the Woman in 2018. And if there is a Democratic “blue wave,” it will be because of the notable number of strong female candidates. They include Regina Bateson, 35, and Jessica Morse, 36, who both boast Ivy League degrees and want to take down Republican incumbent Tom McClintock in the 4th Congressional District.

There are also quite a few millennials seeking office. Vivek Viswanathan, 31, is a former aide to Hillary Clinton and to Gov. Jerry Brown and now candidate for state treasurer. Karina Talamantes and Ray Green, both 29, work with at-risk kids and are running for the Sacramento County Board of Education. While some may be aiming a tad too high in their first campaigns, we should be glad that smart people who could have cashed in on Wall Street or in Silicon Valley are interested in public office.

I’m even more impressed by younger candidates who overcame obstacles. Tristan Brown, 35, a candidate for Sacramento City Council in District 7, grew up in a tough neighborhood in Los Angeles, went to McGeorge law school at night and is now a legislative lobbyist for the California Federation of Teachers. Tamika L’Ecluse, 38, raised poor by a single mother in Sacramento, is an early education teacher and LGBT activist running in City Council District 5. And Roza Calderon, 33, a refugee from El Salvador and a single mom who put herself through college, is also running against McClintock.

We should also have special respect for those who defended America after 9/11. Most veterans running nationally are Democrats, but Andrew Grant, 46, a former Marine intelligence officer, is a Republican in the 7th Congressional District, represented by Democrat Ami Bera.

We didn’t endorse all these candidates, of course. Some of our decisions were clear, some were close calls.

And we stand behind all our endorsements. We’re not going to take them back, unless there’s something dramatic – like a candidate being charged with a crime. (It happened in 2012, when we withdrew our support for Cortez Quinn for Twin Rivers school board.)

And, no, we’re not going to change our minds just because of emails calling us stupidly wrong, or opposition research memos. We’re getting bombarded by both Bateson and Morse loyalists; the infighting is more proof that if there’s any way for Democrats to snatch defeat from victory, they’ll probably find it.

Still, the optimism of many candidates was uplifting, even if we endorsed someone else.

A word about that: We’re not telling people how to vote. Instead, we offer recommendations, based on the interviews, other research and our best judgment. And we mention some key issues for voters to consider before making their own decisions. In fact, readers have been known to vote the exact opposite of our endorsements.

That’s fine, but we do hope voters pick serious and qualified candidates.

Not to be unkind, but there are too many who have no business running. Or they get their names on the ballot, but don’t actually campaign. These vanity candidates waste voters’ time and clutter up the ballot.

There are 27 candidates for governor and 32 for U.S. Senate. All but a handful are pretenders, not contenders.

Not to be anti-democratic, but maybe it’s time to look at making it a little more difficult to run. Now, statewide candidates only have to submit 65 to100 signatures and pay a filing fee. And the Legislature, in its infinite wisdom, actually made it easier last year by lowering the number of signatures needed to avoid the filing fee.

For instance, for governor, you have to pay $3,916.12 to file (2 percent of the annual salary). But candidates can instead submit 7,000 signatures, down from 10,000. For state Senate and U.S. House, the signature requirement was reduced to 2,000 from 3,000; for state Assembly, it went to 1,000 from 1,500.

I’m not saying that candidates should have to collect anywhere near as many signatures as it takes to put an initiative on the ballot. (This year, it’s 365,880 to change a state law and 585,407 to amend the state constitution.) But is it too much to ask candidates to get a few thousand more to prove that they have support and are willing to make an effort?

While any U.S. citizen can run for elected office, that doesn’t mean anyone should. Otherwise, we end up with a ridiculously long ballot – or Donald Trump in the White House.

Foon Rhee: 916-321-1913, @foonrhee

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