Joyce Terhaar

Information is power; use it to vote

The Bee’s coverage of campaigns leading up to Tuesday’s election is about power and voice – yours, not that of the candidates or special interests.

It’s a powerful thing, deciding which candidate best suits your views of the world or deciding that a proposition should go down in flames. Your vote gives you voice.

Given the state’s record-low turnout for the June primary – 25.2 percent of registered voters cast their ballot – it seems many Californians disagree.

Yet this year’s primary race for controller is just one vivid example of how much each vote counts. Republican Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin finished first while initial counts showed two Democrats battling for second place to advance to the general election – former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and Board of Equalization member Betty Yee. When the dust settled, Yee won by one-hundredth of 1 percent of more than 4 million votes, or fewer than 500 votes. Every vote mattered.

That kind of result is why The Bee continues to cover elections aggressively, even when there’s no presidential election and Gov. Jerry Brown’s re-election seems assured.

“It’s actually more important in lower-profile races that we put in the work,” said Amy Chance, senior editor for politics. “In a presidential year, voters have plenty of sources to help them choose a candidate.… But many of the names voters will see on their ballots this year are unfamiliar.”

I view it as part of our watchdog mission. It looks like this:

▪ We fact-check television and other political advertising to let voters know if a candidate or special interest is lying about the opposition. In the face of sometimes heated response from some campaigns, we are matter-of-fact.

▪ We published Voter Guides for the primary and general elections, in print and online.

▪ We crunch statewide campaign finance data each morning to flag for readers the latest trends in political giving, receiving and spending. We’re the only California journalists doing this.

▪ Our editorial board interviews and vets political candidates throughout the four-county region, prioritizing the most important races, to make endorsements.

▪ We co-sponsored the only scheduled debate between Ami Bera and Doug Ose in their 7th Congressional District battle. In addition to Capitol Bureau Chief Dan Smith’s questions for the candidates, we fact-checked claims.

▪ We developed a digital tool that helps you match your political beliefs with that of candidates to help you decide whom to vote for. See “Pick Your Candidate” under “Politics” at sacbee.com.

In some races Tuesday, both candidates are from the same party. Proposition 14, passed in June 2010, allows the top-two candidates to advance to the general election regardless of party to ensure moderate voices have a shot.

Why does your vote matter, then, if both candidates are from the same party? Political reporter Laurel Rosenhall set out to show why in the race to replace Sacramento Sen. Darrell Steinberg. Democrats Roger Dickinson and Richard Pan, both members of the Assembly, are vying for the seat. In an analysis of their voting, Rosenhall found they cast the same votes more than 97 percent of the time.

“But the cases where they differed showed some patterns that had not emerged in the campaign,” Rosenhall said, “including diverging positions on gambling, health care and environmental legislation.”

Rosenhall wrote her story “with the goal of illustrating for voters how each candidate makes decisions on the issues legislators face. My hope was to get away from the messaging, spinning, manipulating and attacking that have come to define campaigns – and let voters see the tangible, factual differences between the men who hope to represent them.”

Kevin Yamamura, editor for local government and education, brought a similar passion for fact-finding to the Voter Guides.

“We routinely question the responses that candidates provide for our guide,” he said. “We identified answers that were intentionally vague or deceiving and pressed for the type of information we would want if we had to vote in that race.”

Yamamura said that reporters follow the money as they cover the races, “determining which power players are backing which candidates.”

Political advertising often obfuscates those relationships. Or, worse, the ads exaggerate and lie.

That, said Smith, is the reason for our Ad Watch fact-checking.

“The reporting is more important than ever, because the number of ads on TV and in our mailboxes is increasing while the level of truthfulness is shamefully declining,” he said.

Each election, new technology has helped us more effectively scrutinize elections and campaigns.

“It used to be impossible to get an overall look of what was going on” as hundreds of candidate contributions and independent expenditures were reported daily during campaigns, political data expert Jim Miller said. “Now The Bee has the data” and uses it for features such as “Follow the Money” in the Politics section at sacbee.com. Pull up the district that interests you and see the candidate fundraising as well as independent expenditures.

Our coverage allows you to cut through hyperbole and lies. It allows you to see where special interest groups and rich individuals are trying to influence your vote. Our goal is to give you enough information to decide how to vote. That information gives you power. Use it. Raise your voice.

Call Executive Editor Joyce Terhaar, (916) 321-1004. Follow her on Twitter @jterhaar.

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