For many in the Bay Area, autumn's first weekend is filled with anticipation or angst about the Giants and A's fighting for postseason opportunities or the 49ers, Raiders, Stanford and Cal being in the early stages of a new football season.
Ordinarily, I might be so inclined. But, to shamelessly steal a phrase from columnist George Will, this is one of those years divisible by four and they are different. For those of us who do local opinion journalism for a living, such years are nearly always challenging.
Besides featuring an extra day and the Summer Olympics, such years are when we Americans hold our national elections. That keeps the national media busy, but also hits closer to home.
Hoping to piggyback on higher voter turnout, our state and many, many municipalities and governments have decided to hold their elections at the same time. The bottom line is huge ballots containing an avalanche of candidates and dozens of measures and propositions.
These papers have always felt we should make endorsements in those races. One can argue the advisability of doing so (at this moment, I could be one of them), but we believe it is our responsibility. It is not that we want to tell people how to think, but we do want to tell them what they should think about.
Interviewing candidates and advocates has always been a major component of our charge. It is one we take seriously.
This year is no exception. We have been
It is a daunting task for a small staff, which required an early start.
We tackled the statewide ballot measures first. So far, we have opined on all but the two tax measures on the ballot. We will do that soon, but I thought this would be a good week to use our editorial column to recap the stances so far. A digest of them can be found on the left side of this page. To review the endorsement text online, follow the instructions below the editorial.
Many have noticed that editorial page columnist Dan Borenstein's column has not appeared in while, only a note saying he is on assignment. To add some clarity to that, Dan's assignment is to be the leader of our endorsement interview team.
As difficult and time-consuming as this process can be, we think it is worth it.
It is especially worth it this year because our interviews reveal a disturbing pattern.
Nearly every government in the East Bay has at least some financial challenges and many are in fiscal crisis. But a frightening number of the candidates are clueless about the finances of the government they wish to serve. They labor under the delusion that the financial difficulties were caused by the Great Recession of 2008 and that everything will be just dandy when, and if, the economy picks up.
That's nonsense. The Great Recession did not cause the fiscal problems in many government entities. It exposed them.
For years, many government budgets have been "balanced" based on unreasonable economic projections and unsound fiscal practices, most of which involving employee compensation packages. When the recession first made that clear, many governments chose not to act responsibly. They either picked low-hanging fruit and hoped that would take care of the problem or they simply kicked the can down the road because it was easier.
Anyone who tried to call them on it was branded as hysterical or an alarmist or, worst of all monikers, a tax crank.
But, four years later, these governments have kicked the metaphorical can into a cul-de-sac, there is no road left.
Government leaders must make tough, unpopular choices right now or make more serious future service and job cuts and, in some cases, face the real possibility of bankruptcy. That is why we question candidates so closely on their understanding of government finances. We simply cannot lend our support to candidates who don't understand the fiscal realities and responsibilities of the offices they seek.
It is also why we take special notice of incumbents who have actually taken tough steps already. They are the ones who realize that the first rule of holes is to stop digging. We think such leadership should be rewarded.
Dan Hatfield is the editorial director of the Contra Costa Times and Oakland Tribune.