Letter to the editor: Should elected officials be endorsing candidates?

Editor:

The questions raised about endorsements of, and contributions to, candidates by sitting city councilmembers and other government officials are sticky ones. Most who work for or advise local governments agree that there shouldn’t be specific policies addressing it. And, where cities have tried to address the question in a policy or code, they have not held up under scrutiny, including from the courts as they are seen as a violation of our rights to free speech.

While individual free speech rights are incredibly important, being a public official means subjecting yourself to public scrutiny. As stated in Chapter 12: Ethical Issues of the Mayor and Councilmember Handbook published by the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington (MRSC), “Like it or not, the public expects you [elected officials] to behave according to higher standards than the next person on the street.”

This statement suggests that there are times when those in elected offices should probably limit their individual freedoms to better serve the greater good of the community. In stronger terms, as representatives empowered by voters to serve in non-partisan positions, sitting elected officials would better serve the community that elected them by refraining from making public declarations for or against candidates, whether it be city, county, station, or national level positions. The benefits, whatever they are, are small compared to the costs of undermining public confidence and trust in government. From much of what we have read or heard lately, candidate endorsements can unnecessarily polarize local politics. While it is impossible to keep partisan politics out of just about anything these days, elected officials shouldn’t willingly bring that discussion into the local election process.

Every one of our current councilmembers and our mayor were elected to work toward the same goal — making our city a better place to live, work and play while representing all community members. City councilmembers and the mayor were not elected to use their position and the bully pulpit to increase their own political power.

What any person says to another person privately is, of course, their right and their own concern. Giving someone your individual opinion or recommendation about who to support or vote for when asked in private shouldn’t be concerning.

However, when you became an elected official, you became a public officer. The MSRC handbook further states that “Public officers have the duty of serving the public with undivided loyalty, uninfluenced by any private interest or motive. Care must be taken not to violate this duty of trust, either in appearance or in fact.”

For better or for worse, public officials must accept the simple fact that they are “always on,” when speaking publicly and all too often these days when speaking privately. When public officials take it upon themselves to support or attack a candidate for office publicly, it frequently does more harm than good—possibly for the candidate but definitely for the public they have been elected to represent.

Rebecca Elmore-Yalch
Edmonds

11 Replies to “Letter to the editor: Should elected officials be endorsing candidates?”

    1. Thank you for pointing out the importance of endorsements by former elected leaders to a campaign. I have deep respect for several of our former elected leaders. They worked hard to move Edmonds forward and generally succeeded without the level of drama the council is currently experiencing. Will Chen is endorsed by several well respected leaders including former Mayor Dave Earling, former Mayor Gary Haakenson, and former Council Member Dave Teitzel.

      It is time for the Edmonds Council to look at the needs of the City and eliminate the factionalism that is dividing the current Council. I am voting for Will Chen and Neil Tibbott because I think they will actually work for our whole city.

      You can visit Will Chen’s campaign website, https://www.friendsofwill.org, to see his vision for the City and his list of endorsements.
      Visit https: https://www.reelecttibbott.org for more information about Neil Tibbot.

      The ballots have arrived. Remember to vote.

      Ignored

  1. one can appreciate the content of this letter. problem, the mayor and much of the current cabal of council members simply have failed to be non partisan. most have been partisan leftist hacks , most have contempt towards the citizens of edmonds, most are the most arrogant people in this city. it is a shame these representative of the city have poisoned the civil discourse of this city.

    Ignored

  2. It would probably be unconstitutional to ban such endorsements, if not just a bad idea to ban them. There is much to be said for asserting and assuring the freedom of speech part of the bill of rights.

    That said, I totally question the wisdom of such endorsements from anyone running for office, who wants to project their independence of thought and determination to hear all sides of any given issue and vote according to the best interest of the average Edmonds citizen. The minute you endorse, you are setting up the appearance of alliances and blocs of thought such as we have now. A reverse bloc developing to what we have now is just as indicative of a flawed and failed system that doesn’t really work as intended. I think the 4 to 3 votes will continue but just in the opposite direction. Some will see that as an improvement, but it won’t be.

    In the end, we need seven totally independent minded Council Persons with minimal attachment to already established special interests and/or the official mayoral/staff view of how and what things should be done in town. That is a big ask and a hard roll to fill in our highly partisan charged political environment. As it stands now, I don’t think any of our Council Persons totally make the grade, but I’d say Vivian Olson comes the closest. I am disappointed in her endorsement of Will Chen and I think that was a mistake that could come back to haunt. I have similar misgivings about K.J.’s endorsement of N.T. ( Full disclosure, I voted for Tibbott and K.J. but not for Chen).

    I’m not looking for anti Nelson people. I’m looking for people to run Edmonds fair and square with no nonsense for all our citizens type people.

    Ignored

    1. I agree, Vivian made a choice to endorse Will based on his resume……….. I say again, resume. Not one explanation that over half of Will’s political contributions come from not only “outside” of Edmonds, but many from “out of state”, to our family this is a BIG deal, or a deal breaker to receive our vote. Our opinion of why Vivian insisted on commenting to endorse Will makes us question her thinking.

      Ignored

  3. I appreciate this message. I am considering it personally.

    I also want to share what I have learned as it relates to the bigger picture so that if it doesn’t change, voters know what to do with the “information” received by the endorsements.

    Disappointing but true: Endorsements from active electeds of the same party as the candidate mean NOTHING. Even when the candidates have terrible flaws from the standpoint of good governance and character, electeds sell their soul and endorse their party member for the sake of campaign support for their next election when pressured to do so (which happens).

    Endorsements from retired electeds mean more. Obviously the person has the same lens they always have. What has changed is that they aren’t beholden.

    A (party) crossover endorsement means everything. It almost never happen, but when it does, pay attention. This is happening right now in the Seattle race for City Attorney.

    On a related subject, be wary of endorsements from the many allegedly nonpartisan organizations. The only one I still have full trust and belief in after my personal involvement with running is League of Women Voters (LWV). By the way, LWV puts out a wonderful election tool called Voter 411 that is really helpful when filling out your ballot if you don’t already know the candidates in that race.

    Ignored

  4. My comment shows after others addressing me, but was sent before they were visible to me.

    It addresses the original message from Rebecca (not the items on the thread)

    Ignored

  5. As a close follower of City Government for years, I have formed an opinion about how those retired elected officials performed in office. I appreciate the point that endorsements from retired electeds mean more. If a retired elected official earned my respect, I value their endorsement.

    For example, Joan Bloom’s endorsement of Janelle Cass is huge in my eyes. Joan is my neighbor and I consider Joan Bloom the best City Councilmember we have had over the years I have followed City government. Joan has high integrity and is deeply devoted to good, ethical government.

    On the other hand, Dave Earling refused to respond to one of my citizen emails for 7.75 years. Gary Haakenson told City Council during his last Council Meeting as Mayor that he was hiring Phil Williams as Public Works whether Council confirmed him or not. Neither Earling or Haakenson were able to execute the Code Rewite despite hundreds of thousands of dollars being budgeted for such. Earling and Haakenson endorsements are huge warning signs for me.

    I didn’t keep this secret from Will Chen. Will can confirm that I contacted him on July 22, 2021 and expressed great concern about the endorsements of Earling and Haakenson.

    Ignored

  6. Bottom line for me is, I tend to ignore all endorsements from politicians past or present. My conclusion is that most of the time an endorsement from a fellow candidate or ex candidate is for some sort of perceived personal benefit or gain ( like group agreement and approval of pet projects of one sort or another).

    Unfortunately we live in a society that really encourages conformity and going along to get along over non-conformity, independent thinking and peaceful protest when appropriate. In Edmonds, opposing the establishment thinking and the status quo, is generally seen as trouble making and not “choosing kindness.” It’s perfectly okay to make “good trouble” if you truly live in a free society, in my view. A lot of being “free” is really just a state of mind and not letting yourself be ruled by fear (favorite tactic of the Right of our political spectrum).

    Ignored

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.