Election season is running at full gear, and endorsement letters are trickling in.

I’m hopeful we will see that trickle increase to a steady flow of endorsement letters for local races and beyond.

The deadline for letters to the editor submissions is Friday, Oct. 23. The last day The Observer will publish endorsement letters to the editor is Saturday, Oct. 31.

Yes, our website still limits letters to the editor to 250 words. My apologies for that. But you can email endorsement letters up to 400 words to us at news@lagrandeobserver.com.

Plenty of political debate takes place on Facebook and other social media platforms, but that often devolves into, well, something that resembled the Tuesday, Sept. 29, presidential debate. We have a hard time moderating our own Facebook page to keep posters from flinging insults or derailing threads. The letters to the editor page of the newspaper, in contrast, provides a platform where moderation is central to the process of expression.

Publishing a letter to the editor means it has met certain standards. We verify letters, usually with a phone call to the writer, and require the writer to put their name to their words. Anonymous letters end up in the trash bin.

Letters to the editor, then, come with a degree of accountability, and we make good faith efforts to ensure the letters we receive are from the people who say they wrote it.

The volume of letters to the editor, however, means we cannot run them right up to election day. And with Oregon’s vote-by-mail system, election day is more like election weeks, so someone wanting to endorse a candidate or ballot measure does not have to wait until the last moment.

I’ve written before on how letters to the editor should function as a community sounding board that presents a variety of views on topics from elections to whether the newspaper is doing its job. Those letters show readers what their fellow community members think and believe. They are essential to the fabric of community discourse and healthy democratic debate. So keep them coming.

On a related note about participating in public discourse, I want to express a few thoughts on Bill Whitaker.

Bill was our regular local columnist, writing “The Common Good” once a month. He died Sunday at his home in La Grande. He was 80.

Bill was a contributor to The Observer’s opinion page before I arrived in late 2019, and when I changed what we did on this page, he answered that call with his column, which started in March.

He wrote on the federal budget and the coronavirus outbreak, structural racism, saving the U.S. Postal Service and in his last column, which ran in August, he discussed nuclear war and voting rights. Bill demonstrated a superb ability to take the biggest issues and connect them to the local level while blending in his own experiences and delivering poignant insights. That’s rare writing.

I didn’t get to know Bill well. Our relationship was professional. He told me he had a serious medial condition and was not certain he could keep writing a column, but he said he would try. That said quite a lot to me about the kind of man he was.

I’m going to miss Bill and his voice in our newspaper.

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