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How did this year’s campaign begin so early?

For that matter, when did the last campaign end?

If you’ve become resigned to a perpetual national campaign cycle, you’re not alone. And now it seems to have filtered down to state and even local races.

In Flagstaff, candidates for council apparently think elections are still held in the spring. Seven of them – none of them incumbents -- have declared their candidacies for three seats, even though the deadline for turning in nominating petitions isn’t until May 30. And candidates for school board have nearly all summer – their deadline is Aug. 8. Falling in the middle is the deadline for ballot measures: July 6.

In other words, we’re still quite a long way out from even knowing who will be on the ballot. The primary isn’t until Aug. 28 and the general election is Nov. 6. It’s ironic, for example, that in the year of the female candidate nationally, all of the seven early candidates for Flagstaff City Council are male. But the filing deadline, as noted above, is still more than two months away.

But after watching the presidential contenders in 2016 suck all the air out of most other campaigns starting with the Iowa caucuses in January, we’re inclined to encourage local candidates to get as early a start as possible in 2018. Although the White House isn’t at stake this year, every state office and U.S. House seat is up for grabs and a U.S. Senate seat, too. Once those candidates – and statewide ballot PACS -- start gearing up their expensive media campaigns after Labor Day, races for council, school board and local ballot measures will be just so much background noise.

As in the past, the Daily Sun will be offering council candidates a chance to participate in a weekly Q&A, both in print and online. And this year, we’ll be looking to make our candidate profiles at the council and legislative levels more interactive, with readers asked to send us questions they’d like to see answered, then the interviews screened on Facebook Live. Stay tuned for more details and be prepared to start paying attention to local politics much earlier than this fall.

One of the challenges for journalists in the age of social media is how to sort grassroots news from rumor and fake news, especially during a heated campaign. We’ll look to focus on the candidates, their records and the issues, with campaign tactics and messaging secondary. But if the rhetoric starts to exceed what the record can support, we’ll weigh in with a Fact Check that pulls no punches. And if candidates will cooperate, we’ll look to put out clip-and-save Issues Checklists that are a good way to compare votes and positions almost at a glance.

Finally, a word about civility on the campaign trail. The rule of thumb is that the closer a candidate lives to his or her prospective constituents, the less likely they’ll be rude to their opponent – you never can tell when you’ll meet an offended voter the next day at the grocery store. And in many ways the local newspaper is the arbiter of what’s unacceptable by calling out name-calling, distortion and ridicule – whether online or off. Local politics can be tough-minded without being personally offensive. With that in mind, here’s to a productive – and civil -- Campaign 2018!

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