Stroud column: A change in thinking on candidate endorsements
I used to enjoy writing or weighing in on political candidate endorsements for the old Glenwood Post, and in recent years the Post Independent.
Same was true for many years in-between while reporting for and editing Carbondale’s Valley Journal newspaper. We even dabbled in political endorsements at the various college publications that served as my training ground.
It’s a time-honored tradition for newspapers, both large and small, to endorse the candidate or candidates its editorial board believes are the best-qualified, or who have the best ideas to represent a group of constituents.
Endorsements are also about recognizing leadership qualities that can serve a community, or a school or fire district, or a state or national legislative district, or even the entire country.
I remember well when the Glenwood Post had the audacity to endorse Bill Clinton over George H.W. Bush for president. Boy, did we hear about that one.
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In my different newspaper columns over the years, I’ve personally bucked the establishment and endorsed independent and third-party candidates for various offices, from the occasional Libertarian or Green candidate for state office, to Ralph Nader for president.
I remain an unapologetic “Unrepentant Nader Voter,” as the bumper sticker proclaimed, thank you.
Over the years, I’ve had a hand in endorsing candidates for everything from the local school board to U.S. President. Rarely was I ever disappointed in our choice.
Often, our informed, thoughtful endorsements were respected even by those we didn’t endorse.
And, occasionally, our endorsements were viewed as the “kiss of death” by those we did endorse.
Times have changed, though. The political discourse has gotten uglier, unfortunately. It’s not just true nationally, it happens right here in Glenwood Springs and other area communities with our local elections.
So we’ve had to rethink the value and purpose, and possible unintentional consequences, of candidate endorsements, especially at the local level.
The November 2018 mid-term elections marked the first time in recent memory that the Post Independent did not offer endorsements in our races for Garfield County offices, state legislative and congressional seats, or for governor.
Would it have mattered? Maybe. But probably not.
Again, with the current Glenwood Springs City Council elections, we have decided not to make endorsements.
Endorsements, done right, can be valuable to our readers. Done poorly, without sitting down with and hearing out each of the candidates in a face-to-face setting, comes across as the newspaper just thinking it knows better than anyone else.
We just did revamp our editorial board to include a rotation of two community members for three months at a time, plus internal PI staff representation beyond just the publisher and editor.
It’s a good process, and we’re still getting used to doing it the right way. Will we do candidate endorsements in the future under this format?
Perhaps. But there are some good reasons not to.
First, even after those relatively brief one-on-ones with the candidates, do we really know how well they will carry out the duties of the office and represent the interests of the people of Glenwood Springs?
We do have the benefit of knowing some of these candidates on a different level than the average voter, so there’s something to be said for that.
Occasionally, a candidate will come along who’s simply unfit for the office, or who has some questionable background or motive that needs to be exposed. If that happens, we will first get to the bottom of the story and report it, and most likely would be obligated if there’s something seriously wrong to endorse against that candidate.
But it’s ultimately up to the voter to do their own research in addition to the information we as a news source provide, and to make an educated decision.
I would hate to think that anyone would cast a vote based solely on a newspaper endorsement. In my book, it’s akin to voting blindly for a candidate just because they have an “R” or “D” next to their name, without knowing a little something about the person.
In the end, it’s also about building positive relationships in a small town. We may not agree with whoever ends up winning the contest, but we still have to get along with that person.
It does no one any good to get off on the wrong foot, especially when it appears one person could do just as well in the job as compared to the other, even if they bring some different ideas or philosophies to the table.
John Stroud is editor of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. His column, In Defiance, appears monthly.
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