EVERY ELECTION CONTAINS a few races that present us with difficult choices. Sometimes it's because we are impressed by both candidates. Sometimes it's because each has qualities or positions that trouble us. In the case of the 15th Assembly District race, it's the latter.

Democrat Joan Buchanan, a trustee on the San Ramon Valley school district board since 1990, and Republican Abram Wilson, the mayor of San Ramon and a member of the City Council since 1999, are vying for the seat Republican Guy Houston must vacate because of term limits. It's a sprawling district that spreads across parts of four counties: Contra Costa, Alameda, San Joaquin and Sacramento.

Buchanan brings education expertise; Wilson brings knowledge of city finances as well as 30 years' experience as an investment banker. As such, both are qualified to serve in the state Legislature. However, we have profound differences with each of them on policy issues that make us reluctant to endorse either candidate.

Buchanan insists that salary and other compensation of individual public employees should be kept private — a position in complete opposition to this paper's successful legal fight to make government workers' pay public. As Wilson correctly put it, "The public has a right to know what they're paying their employees. "... You work for me. I should know what I'm paying you."

Meanwhile, Wilson has signed a pledge to not raise taxes — which is contrary to this paper's position that a combination of spending cuts and revenue increases will be needed to eventually fix the state's still-unresolved budget mess. As Buchanan aptly said, when it comes to the budget, everything should be on the table.

In the end, we are endorsing Wilson because the issue of casting sunlight on public employee salaries is so fundamental to our ability as members of the press to perform our own government watchdog role. But we want you to know that this decision was not easy and both candidates leave us with concerns.