IN THE PAST MONTH, I've heard a well-known political commentator and a highly regarded economist tell two different groups in the plumbing industry how well the economy is doing right now. Both speakers agreed that the recession ended sometime earlier this year and that the economic recovery is well on its way.

After each speech, I had the opportunity to talk with members of the groups — manufacturers in one, contractors in the other — who have not necessarily experienced this recovery firsthand. Most told me that they've had good months and bad months, but no real traction or consistent upward climb. A roller-coaster hand motion occasionally accompanied their assessment of their own recent business fortunes.

I mention this now because we're at the height of the most contentious political season that I can recall since 1968. I was too young to vote that year but, being from Chicago, I can remember seeing the police in riot gear as they prepared for demonstrations in the streets from people not too much older than I was at the time.

We haven't reached that point this year, yet still you've been hearing wildly different opinions of the economy, the war in Iraq, the nation's health-care crisis, national security, taxes, education and a host of other issues. You really have to decide between now and Nov. 2 what to believe and which issues are most important to you.

For many of you, taxes and tort reform probably are at the top of the list. A couple months ago in this space, we discussed tort reform as it relates to frivolous lawsuits in the plumbing and heating industry. We quoted contractor Jo Wagner, president of CTO Inc. in Texas and an active PHCC member, who testified July 22 before Congress to spell out the debilitating effects that frivolous lawsuits have wreaked on plumbing contractors.

I recently heard from Wagner, who thanked us for recognizing her efforts in Washington to bring about tort reform. She told me that she would have written sooner, but she has been so busy working in both Texas and on a national level on this subject that she had fallen behind in her reading.

She also said she has been busy trying to get her fellow contractors to see the importance of becoming involved in this election year and to make sure that "the right people understand the rage they are feeling at the lawsuits filed daily in our industry." She added that she has received a great response from colleagues, but that's not all.

"They're putting their money on the line to see that we get the right people in office," she told me. "As far as voting, everyone I've spoken to is registered and ready to cast their ballot. A lot of the younger contractors who have never voted are doing so now.

"I think for the first time they realize how much their future is at stake. And as I like to point out, if you don't participate, don't expect me to listen to your rage."

We agree that it's important for you to participate in this election, but only as an informed voter. And we can't think of another election that has required more work on your part to educate yourself on what candidates say that they'll do if elected and what they've actually done in the past when they've had the chance to act or cast a vote.

This won't be easy because of the efforts of both major parties to manipulate the polls leading up to the election and the nonstop spin from commentators on what they say the candidates said vs. what the candidates actually said.

It's essential, of course, that you pay attention to what the candidates' positions on issues such as taxation and health care would mean to your own business. We also urge you, however, to look at the bigger picture of how electing one slate or the other would affect your customers' ability to pay for your services and the direction of the country in general.

You know that the "Don't Blame Me, I Voted for Kerry" or the "Don't Blame Me, I Voted for Bush" bumper stickers are going to be inevitable in the months following the election. Still, we can blame you if you don't take the time to educate yourself on the better candidate to lead the country in the next four years.