You certainly don't need our help marking your ballot in some of this year's high-profile contests. We imagine you've already made up your mind on big-ticket items, such as the race in the nation's trickiest Congressional district, the newly drawn 1st in Northwest Washington, starting in the Microsoft suburbs and heading north to Canada where Democrat Suzan DelBene and Republican John Koster are squaring off.

(If not, PubliCola picks Suzan DelBene, the former Washington State Department of Revenue director, an understated wonk and successful high-tech entrepreneur who shows a particular interest in strengthening Dodd-Frank, advocating that we reinstate the strict separation of commercial and investment banking. Koster, a Snohomish County Council member and former state rep who led the extreme conservative faction in Olympia—voting reflexively against five out of six budgets, opposing gay rights, and pushing anti-choice legislation—has had to back off from some his kookier past statements such as wanting to get rid of the Department of Education and signing Grover Norquist's Maoist pledge not to raise taxes. However, he has not backed off his position that abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape.)

But you knew all that. (Earlier this month, we told you some other things you already knew: Vote for Jay Inslee  for governor; Reject I-1185, Tim Eyman's latest two-thirds rule to raise any taxes;  Approve I-502, the pot legalization measure; Vote for Bob Ferguson for Attorney General; and Approve R-74, the gay marriage measure.)

Three other no-brainers: In the state Supreme Court race, vote for Sheryl McCloud. She's running against former Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders. If you miss Sanders' civil liberties bent on the court (he lost two years ago), McCloud's own docket boasts a stalwart, across-the-board commitment to civil liberties as well on cases involving gun rights, prisoner rights, women's rights, and gay rights (she's currently fighting against an archaic sodomy law in Idaho).

McCloud's history features a stalwart, across-the-board commitment to civil liberties on cases involving gun owners, prisoners, women, and gays. And Sanders' supposed civil liberties advocacy wavered when it came to gay Washingtonians—he was a no on the gay marriage case in 2006. And he's too much of a partisan in public, often tarnishing the Court's reputation. For example, Sanders called U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey a "tyrant" at a public meeting; visited a sexual predator detention center while overseeing a case dealing with one of the inmates there; and said African-Americans were overrepresented in the criminal justice system because they "have a crime problem." 

In this year's U.S. Senate race, PubliCola picks incumbent U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA). Cantwell isn't flashy, but delving into serious yeoman's territory (reforming "dark derivative markets,"  and her brainy "cap and dividend" proposal), Cantwell has had an outstanding second term—challenging Obama from the left with a detail-oriented dose of Washington State populism.

Cantwell isn't flashy, but delving into serious yeoman's territory such as reforming "dark derivative markets," she has had an outstanding, populist second term

Her unqualified Republican opponent, freshman state Sen. Michael Baumgarnter, who even lost the endorsement of former GOP State Chair Dale Foreman to Cantwell due to Cantwell's record on agriculture, is campaigning almost exclusively on his angry opposition to the Afghanistan war. But Lefty Cantwell has already been out front as a dissident Democrat on the issue, voting in 2010, for example, in Obama's face, to set a timetable for withdrawal. She also voted repeatedly for legislation that would have required President Bush to include war spending in the budget rather than putting it on the supplemental budget credit card.

In the King County Sheriff's race, PubliCola picks John Urquhart. John Urquhart, the longtime spokesman for former King County sheriffs Sue Rahr and Dave Reichert, is the clear choice against appointed Sheriff Steve Strachan, an anti-choice, anti-tax, pro-gun conservative.

Strachan has been the target of two damning audits criticizing his office for its inconsistent internal investigations policies, and for losing or destroying important documents. (Strachan also held a fundraiser at a gun range, titled "Shootin' With the Sheriff," at a time when the Northwest and the nation were going through one of the worst years of gun violence in recent history.) 

Urquhart has vowed to reform sheriff's department policies in keeping with national best practices; has said he will return the department's internal investigations unit to full strength; and has the endorsement of numerous King County police reform advocates, including Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, City Council public safety committee chair Bruce Harrell, and former US attorney (and pot-legalization advocate) John McKay.

And finally:

PubliCola Picks Reject I-1240

Initiative 1240 would allow the creation of up to 40 charter schools—private schools, overseen by private boards, funded by taxpayer dollars.

The real problems with Washington State's education system are: inadequate funding, overcrowded classrooms, and outdated technology. 

At a time when the state is struggling to meet its constitutional mandate to fully fund education—a mandate made clear by the state Supreme Court's McCleary decision, which found that the state must come up with more than $1 billion next year—there is no justification for siphoning off millions to pay for an experiment that would serve just one percent of Washington State's students.

In other states, charters have flopped. According to an exhaustive, peer-reviewed 2009 Stanford study, just 17 percent of public schools that were converted to charters reported academic gains, while 37 percent of charter students fared worse than their traditional public counterparts. Those aren't great odds. 

Meanwhile, those left behind in our failing public schools are no better off—with no more funding for books, teachers, or materials than they were before.

For those who consider themselves education reformers, we suggest continuing to push for tougher teacher accountability measures and better student curriculum and standards, not an off-point idea that doesn't address the real problems with our schools. 

The real problems with Washington State's education system are inadequate funding, overcrowded classrooms, and outdated technology. Taking even more money out of the public school system will only exacerbate all those problems.