When she gave her farewell speech on the floor of the Arizona Senate, 12-year Mesa Republican Sen. Karen Johnson said “being an elected official is like standing naked upon a stage.

“People watch what you do and are sure to comment on every action you take,” Johnson said in a quote published in the Arizona Capitol Times. “Your mistakes are broadcasted to the world, while your accomplishments may be silently approved but are more often ignored.”

Despite all that, candidates expose themselves to politics and run for office. It’s very difficult. The scrutiny is absolute. Errors are amplified, accolades muffled. Skin grows thicker, as it must. Republican Al Melvin’s actually had his name torn apart; Melvin campaign signs have been damaged in the Northwest, he reports. That’s wrong. People shouldn’t tear down campaign signs. Rather, they should celebrate their existence.

We’ve got to celebrate the candidates, too. Regardless of their styles, regardless of their views, all of us should be completely grateful to these people running for the Arizona Legislature. The sacrifices are real. The public discourse is essential as Arizona confronts very real challenges.

We’re paying attention to politics this summer, covering a few debates, and profiling candidates and their views in big, long, hopefully interesting reports. Why? We think it’s important. Really important. Next to the watchdog function with government, reporting on politics, campaigns and the choices before voters is essential to the craft of journalism.

We think it’s interesting, too.

Anyone who watched and listened to the debate between Republican Senate District 26 candidates Melvin and Pete Hershberger had to be, at least, fascinated by the critical yet civil exchanges. Pundit Emil Franzi got it right last week — the differences between those two candidates are very clear for Republicans who vote in the Sept. 2 primary election. The outcome is being watched across Arizona. The seat in 26, now held by Democratic Sen. Charlene Pesquiera, is much coveted by both parties. Democrat Cheryl Cage awaits the winner.

At the Nanini Branch Library on a recent hot evening, three Republican candidates for House District 26’s two nominations debated the issues. Trent Humphries, Vic Williams and Marilyn Zerull put themselves out there, in front of Republicans and Democrats alike. They had strong moments. They stumbled. And, as Zerull observed recently, they’re improving because of the experience. A Republican advantage in District 26 is that the nominations are contested, and therefore the candidates are debating, walking the district, campaigning and learning. Those who emerge Sept. 2 have an experiential leg up on their Democratic opponents.

The Nanini debates were part of Arizona’s system of government-regulated, government-funded political speech. Oh, sorry — that’s something called “Clean Elections,” a moniker that prompts the newcomer to wonder just how its proponents pulled off the naming rights. “Clean Elections” implies that other politics are “dirty.” That’s not so. The “traditional” method of campaign financing has allowed political speech, the most sacredly protected speech in this country, to flourish. If you don’t like where the candidates get their money, don’t vote for ’em. It’s not “dirty,” nor are its practitioners.

The debates are a positive result of “Clean Elections,” and they are appreciated. So, too, are the candidates.

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