With the filing period for national, state and county offices closing at 5 p.m. today, the 2006 election season will be officially open, and one word we will hear over and over again during all the anticipated campaign rhetoric is “integrity.”

We will hear it mentioned more often by politicians claiming they have it, and that their opponents do not.

What, then, is “integrity?”

According to our easy-to-use on-line dictionary the word “integrity” means “character, principles, honesty, ethical, incorruptibility.”

So now — before the elections — is the time for voters to apply a standard of integrity as an absolute requirement for gaining our votes to hold public office — and that’s for any public office, from city hall to the White House.

Some outgoing members of the Oklahoma legislature have prostituted themselves by insisting on tax cuts for the wealthy in exchange for funds to pay for their campaigns for other offices, virtually forcing an expensive special session — with the taxpayers picking up the tab. By anyone else’s definition, this would be called “embezzlement.”

One by one, members of Congress have been caught red-handed swapping votes and influence for goods and cash. A Louisiana Democrat was caught with nearly $100,000 in cash stuffed into his home freezer. A California Republican had to resign in disgrace, and will do jail time for virtually stealing from the public.

The president has far exceeded his Constitutional authority, and has gone so far as to rule himself above the law and not responsible to the Constitution which he swore to uphold and defend.

Then, there are agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Defense that are supposed to protect us but have, instead, victimized us to the benefit of corporate interests.

People of this country were misled into a horrendous war with outright lies. The vice president has allowed a cabal of oil executives set our energy policy. The Secretary of Defense has been complicit in the deceit and mismanagement of the president’s war.

Our responsibility as citizens is to be fully and objectively informed, and to exercise our precious right to vote.

To maintain our own integrity, we must demand nothing less than unquestioned integrity from those we elect.