Apr 01 2014

Picking ‘em

Published by at 7:56 am under Malloy

malloy CHUCK
MALLOY

 
In Idaho

I did a lousy job with my NCAA basketball picks, so I thought I would try to redeem myself with a prediction of a different kind of Final Four – the Idaho Statesman’s editorial endorsements for the May 20 primary election. So, let “May Madness” begin (drum roll, please).

Governor: C.L. “Butch” Otter over Sen. Russ Fulcher. Otter favors Common Core; Fulcher opposes it; end of discussion.

1st District Congress: Rep. Raul Labrador over three Republican no-names. That is, if the Statesman endorses in that race. But it’s hard to imagine the Statesman taking a pass in a crowded congressional primary.

2nd District Congress: Rep. Mike Simpson over Bryan Smith, the pride and joy of Club for Growth. One tea party guy (Labrador) is enough. Bob Ehlert, the Statesman’s editorial page editor, already has lashed out against Club for Growth.

Secretary of State: Phil McGrane over three other Republicans. Ben Ysursa’s endorsement should tilt the Statesman’s vote toward McGrane.

The process, of course, won’t be so fast. Ehlert, Publisher Mike Jung and the community representatives will spend many hours in the vetting process – as other editorial boards have done over the years. But I boldly predict this is how it will turn out. Actually, it’s not so bold; these are safe picks for an editorial page that tends to play it safe.

I suspect the process will be about the same as it has in years past. The big change at the Statesman is there will be fewer endorsements – which can be viewed as good or bad, depending on your view of editorial endorsements.

“Previous Statesman editorial boards have made dozens, even hundreds of endorsements in these races,” Ehlert wrote in a recent column. “If we make more than a dozen I will be surprised, and that will happen only if we feel we have critical insight that will help you make your decision.”

He took some well-aimed hits on the old ways of doing business, stirring a Facebook reaction from the former opinions page editor, Kevin Richert, who especially took exception with this passage: “If we devote the time to do hundreds of 30-minute endorsement interviews with candidates we met only a minute earlier, we have to consider whether that is the best use of our time and platform – and to the exclusion of what other mission.”

Richert’s reply: “I can assure you, having been there, that much more thought and research went into the process – before and after the interviews. I was only one person at the table. Many Statesman staffers, past and present, were right in the thick of this demanding effort. So were our volunteer community representatives – great folks who freely gave their time and shared their expertise to help us make the best decision possible. There are too many folks to thank by name, because I’m sure I’d inadvertently leave some good people out. But they do deserve a public thank you.”

Richert also deserves credit, and thanks, for what he did on the opinion page. On most weeks, he blogged almost daily – turning those blogs into delicious-reading columns twice a week. He also produced about four well-written and substantive editorials per week – helping make the Statesman’s editorial page one of the best in the state.

I served on the Statesman’s editorial board from 1999-2003, as the opinion page editor and writer. As Richert and Ehlert know, I am not a fan of newspaper editorial endorsements – even on a scaled-down basis. The process takes far too much time and, with more people voting early, relevance becomes a big issue. If the goal is anything less than trying to influence the outcome of an election, then why bother? It’s better to comment about candidates, and election issues, along the way – as the Lewiston Tribune does – in opposed to storing material for editorial endorsements that might not be timely, or relevant.

But as time consuming as the process was under Richert and others before him, I can say that editorial board members walked away with a better understanding of the issues and the candidates running for the offices. It’s a good way to build institutional knowledge on the editorial-page desk.

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