Election Preview 2012's televised round-tables with Contra Costa city and school board candidates may lack the sky-high profile of a presidential debate -- not to mention its gazillion viewers -- but it's the only show in town for voters who want to see and hear directly from their local choices on the Nov. 6 ballot.
In its 18th year of production, the longtime partnership between the Contra Costa Times, League of Women Voters of Diablo Valley, Contra Costa Television and the Contra Costa Election Department features 27 segments with city council, mayor and school board hopefuls plus an hourlong debate on Measure Q, the Contra Costa Fire District's parcel tax.
And if you miss one of the 243½ hours of scheduled airtime, online videos are available 24/7 and just a click away at contracostatimes.com/elections.
"This is a great service to readers that allows voters to become better informed," said Katherine Rowlands, East Bay metro editor.
Election Preview launched in 1994 and has become a rite of passage for many of Contra Costa's local candidates. It's also one of their few opportunities for free airtime in an expensive media market.
The round-table format seats incumbents and challengers side-by-side in Contra Costa Television's Martinez studio for the independently produced 30- to 60-minute program.
Mic'd and facing cameras and bright lights, the candidates make direct statements to viewers and answer questions they have never seen from Lisa Vorderbrueggen, Bay Area News Group political columnist and reporter.
"Election after election, we hear from voters who appreciate the unbiased and unvarnished approach we take with the candidates," said CCTV production manager Chris Verdugo. "In an era of sound-bite politics, our forums continue to let voters know where their potential representatives stand on key issues."
Most local public agencies have consolidated their elections with the state and federal government. The shift concentrated the vast majority of contests onto the even-year election cycle and the numbers of races and candidates has ballooned.
In Contra Costa County, for example, the Nov. 6 ballot will show 268 candidates vying for 131 seats from Congress to state Assembly and Senate, education, BART, water, sewer, city and a host of public agencies.
With a shrinking budget and more races, Election Preview 2012 producers presented a more narrowly focused lineup this season: mayors, city councils, the most populated school districts and the fire safety parcel tax.
At its core, Election Preview remains a voter education program that provides residents from the comfort of their living rooms or home computers the opportunity to evaluate side-by-side the people vying for local governance posts.
"The televised candidate round-tables are the gemstone of the League of Women Voters of Diablo Valley's voter education efforts," said chapter president Lee Lawrence. "Our 18-year partnership with the Contra Costa Times in Election Previews provides an efficient, powerful means of allowing voters in Contra Costa County to see and hear their candidates directly. This is voter education at its best."
Election Preview 2012 is dedicated -- the show's first such mention -- to Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder Steve Weir, who has said he will not seek re-election when his term expires in two years. Weir has steadfastly backed the production during his 14 years in office.
Funding for Election Previews comes from the Dean and Margaret Lesher Foundation of Walnut Creek. Other contributors to Election Preview 2012 are the Contra Costa Council and OLLI at CSU East Bay's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Sunrise Bistro & Catering of Walnut Creek donated lunch for the crew during the three-day production in mid-September.