Whom will we endorse?

As both a blogger and editorial page editor, and not exactly in that order, I can run into certain conflicts: If I use the blog to share my impressions of candidates as we wade through endorsement interviews, am I not risking giving away whom we are likely to endorse?

And yet if I don’t share such information from day to day, what’s the point in an editorial page editor having a blog? Isn’t that the (admittedly theoretical) value of the Weblog — that by virtue of my job, I have access to this kind of information? Shouldn’t you get something extra for going there to read it?

Last week, it struck me for the first time: Why the big mystery about whom we might endorse? I’ve written over and over that the point in a newspaper’s endorsement is the why, not the who. If you just glance at the picture and the headline, you’ve missed the point of that kind of editorial.

The benefit for the reader lies in pondering the reasons we give for the choice. (This is a fact easily lost on many of those who read my blog, unfortunately. Judging by their comments, many remain trapped in the phony left-right, Democratic-Republican, are-you-for-this-one-or-are-you-for-that-one dichotomy — which closes their minds to reason.)

The idea is that by reading our endorsements, and reading rebuttals, and thinking about whether you agree or disagree, should add depth to your own decision-making as a voter — whether you vote in the end for the candidate we endorsed or not.

Besides, trying to guess the eventual endorsement from what I write after an interview is inadequate on two levels: First, an endorsement consists not just of what I think, but of what a consensus of the editorial board arrives at. Besides, I could change my own mind as we go along. I once pulled back an endorsement that was on the page and headed for the press. (I had last-minute qualms, did a little more digging and consulted with my colleagues. We rewrote it and went with the other candidate. Neither of  them knows that to this day.)

So, that resolved, I put my initial, rough impressions of our first three candidates (out of 55 I’ll be interviewing for the June 13 primary), on the blog last week. In each case, we were interviewing challengers. When it works out, we try to bring them in first because we tend to know less about them, and this gives us more time to get up to speed.

I also put capsules of those blog posts in my column Sunday. Here are those minimal excerpts, but if you are at all interested (and I hope you are; state legislators are more likely to have a direct impact on your life than those folks in Washington that everyone loves to shout about), I highly recommend following the links to the much-longer full blog posts:

Artie White, H89, Republican.
I didn’t ask Mr. White (challenging Rep. Kenny Bingham of Lexington County) his age, but I know the approximate answer: Quite young. The nice thing about talking to a candidate so recently (two years) out of college is that he still remembers more than most politicians have forgotten about representative democracy and how it’s supposed to work.

Mr. White sets less store by party than his former boss, Joe Wilson (which is a good thing). When asked whether he would make a point of regularly voting with the GOP caucus, he said, “I don’t really think it’s important.”

His main issue? Eminent domain. “Property rights in this country… is the basis of a free country,” he pronounced.

Greatest strengths? Sincerely good intentions and good theoretical knowledge of how government is supposed to work. Greatest weaknesses? Youth and inexperience.

Sheri Few, H79, Republican.
Sheri Few of Kershaw County, who is challenging Bill Cotty for the Republican nomination in District 79, was our first challenger armed with money from school-“choice” advocates, going up against a vocal Republican opponent of Gov. Mark Sanford’s “Put Parents in Charge” plan: “I am a proponent of school choice,” she said. “We need to start treating parents as consumers.”

But she objects to being portrayed as some sort of tool of out-of-state ideologues. She notes that she has raised $30,000 for her race, with only $8,000 of it coming from outside South Carolina.
Why should voters choose her over her opponent? “A Republican should vote for me over Bill Cotty for a couple of reasons,” she said. “I am a conservative.”

She said with tax credits, private entities would set up various schools to address special needs, such as learning disabilities. I said I could see how that might happen in Columbia, where there was enough demand. But what would be the motivation for private enterprise to set up such choices in the areas where South Carolina’s greatest educational challenges lie — poor, sparsely populated counties?

“That’s an excellent question,” she said. “I haven’t really thought about that.”

Joe McEachern, H77, Democratic.
Mr. McEachern, a member of Richland County Council who is challenging Rep. John Scott, is a straightforward sort who goes his own way, as fellow council members can attest to their delight or chagrin.

For instance, when we asked how he would get things done in the House, as a minority member of the minority party, he said, “I’m not one of those folks that carry the banner.” He said that the best course for South Carolina is likely to be something that transcends party and race. As a result, at times he will disagree with the Legislative Black Caucus.

He sees no need for voters to elect the “long ballot” of statewide officials — or for that matter, the purely magisterial offices on the county level.

When he says that, “People say, ‘Oh, no …. We’ll never get an African-American elected” to statewide office if they become appointive. “Have we ever gotten an African-American elected?” he answers.

“Elect a governor and hold him accountable” for having a diverse Cabinet, he said. “That is the best way.”

More importantly, thanks to his experience in local government, he understands the crying need to get the state government — including county legislative delegations — out of local affairs. “We need to make a clean break,” he said. “Either you’re going to have Home Rule or you’re not.”

He said Rep. Scott “thinks it’s his seat,” and “takes it very personal that I’m running against him. But it’s not personal.”

He said folks in the district complain that Mr. Scott neglects them. By contrast, he says, Bill Cotty — the Republican who represents a neighboring House district — is “more hands on.” Mr. McEachern is indeed no typical banner-carrier.

16 thoughts on “Whom will we endorse?

  1. Doug

    So there’s still a chance you’ll endorse Sanford and Bauer?
    It seems pretty obvious which candidates will get an endorsement and which will not based on your posts on the interviews. The “code words” are all that are necessary.
    White : naive youth = BAD
    Few : vouchers = BAD
    McEachern : black but not TOO BLACK = GOOD
    Are there transcripts of the interviews?
    If they exist, maybe we would benefit from reading them.

  2. Brad Warthen

    So there’s still a chance you’ll endorse Sanford and Bauer?
    Sanford? Sure, there remains a good chance of that. Take a look at the competition. People who don’t do this for a living always neglect to consider the competition. In other words, what is the actual choice before us at a given time?
    Bauer? I don’t see how, but some pretty weird things have happened in the past. Right now, he looks like the worst possible candidate, although the others still have plenty of time to screw up.
    I don’t even understand the next part of your comment. Seems sort of psychedelic.
    And no, there are no transcripts. There are no recordings (MOST of the time; I sometimes take a little digital recorder into major interviews — governor, U.S. senator and the like — but they’re too big a time-waster to use most of the time). There’s no one to make transcripts when there ARE recordings. Do you realize that just going back through a recording to check a single quote can take 10 or 15 minutes? That’s why it’s far better to just force yourself to take notes like mad, rather than trying to use the “labor-saving” device of recording — it makes you lazy as a note-taker, and takes longer in the end.
    We once had a transcript made of a meeting, about 15 years ago. It was INCREDIBLY expensive, even to do it that once. We were able to get the money that once, in those far more free-spending times, because it was a high-priority project. It’s pretty farfetched to think of us doing that on 55 routine interviews.
    Sheesh. You give people more information on the endorsement process than they’ve ever seen in their lives, and they want “transcripts.”
    I did use my digital camera to make a couple of AVI files, with sound, on Columbia mayoral interviews. About a minute each. I got somebody to compress one of them for me. The file was still so huge that Typepad kept freezing up on me when I tried to put it on a post. I finally gave up on that idea, deciding to wait for the technology (as in, technology available to ME, as opposed to stuff I don’t have money for) to evolve.

  3. Brad Warthen

    Oh, and let me add…
    We’ve heard from Doug. Is there anyone out there who actually thinks there’s some value in those interview notes? If not, I won’t do any more of them. (Right now, I’m overdue to do Bill Cotty’s interview from yesterday.)
    Each of those takes half an hour to 45 minutes — at least as much time as the interviews themselves, which are causing considerable stress right now to those of us who have to find time for them. Considering that I actually have ZERO time in my working day to spend on the blog in the first place (actually, less than zero at election time), those items represent a considerable investment. Anyway, reasonable folks, let me know before I do 52 more of them.

  4. Doug

    Thanks for elaborating on the interview process.
    Personally, I’m for getting as much information out there as possible to at least attempt to promote an informed electorate. Didn’t realize the difficulty /cost of creating a transcript? (Couldn’t you get any college interns from USC’s journalism school who would do it for free/college credit?)
    In the interest of full disclosure, I ran for Richland 2 school board in 2000 (finished last – right behind a guy whose platform consisted solely of “better school busses” — he was a bus driver). During the campain period, I attempted to persuade an acquaintance who worked for Brad to get The State to endorse school board candidates (me, naturally :-)) She explained just how much work goes into the endorsement process and said it was not possible. (I think she was just scared I might say I knew her 🙂 )
    The problem is that for candidates who are not politically connected nor able to raise significant amounts of money, the election process is basically a pipedream. That’s why I really had hoped The State would recognize the power it has to truly make a difference in the status quo around here. The system is already rigged in favor of anyone who puts a “DEM” or “REP” next to their name… or is willing to spend $20K or more to win a job that pays $5K purely for the power trip.
    I would recommend that anyone who THINKS they know how politics works in SC ought to try running for office without a party affiliation. Then you’ll see just how stacked the deck is as well as how morally bankrupt some of the people are who get elected year after year. My favorite anecdote during my campaign was standing outside a polling place with another schoolboard candidate, just chatting about past experiences. This guy told me straight out that he once worked for a Big Five accounting firm and took pride in the fact that he specialized in the “grey area” of corporate tax preparation. Yeah, he was re-elected AGAIN.
    Can I suggest more prominent links to the interview blog entries on the TheState.Com
    webpage? I know it’s hard to imagine, but I bet the majority of readers still are not even aware you have a blog.

  5. David

    If you have ever read a transcript, it would take a college student weeks to produce one – maybe longer. Done properly, it takes some work from someone with experience.
    I usually read the endorsement editorials. I am not sure how much it impacts my decision. I am sure I take it into consideration.

  6. Ready to Hurl

    Brad, I usually just check the headline– and bet on the opponent.
    Just for chuckles, have you ever studied how many of your choices won?
    Seriously, it’s not your fault that most SC voters are reactionary idiots. But, is it their fault that the choice is usually between tweedle dumb and dumber?
    The day that I use your editorial board’s endorsement to figure out how to vote is the day that I quit voting.
    Please keep Cindy Ross-Scoppe around, though. She’s a jewel.

  7. Herb

    I always read them; sometimes I understand what you’re talking about, sometimes I don’t (after all, I am new to SC). But when I vote, I value yours and the opinions of others who seem to be trying to be honest.
    As for transcripts, I’ve got to record 20 2-hr. interviews and transcribe them for my dissertation, so you reminded me of the work that lies ahead . . . .

  8. Dave

    The more information the better. The endorsements are valuable to consider and have bearing in a tight race. Also, forget the transcripts and just provide the cryptic notes version.

  9. Brad Warthen

    Thanks. I was hoping to get off the hook, but it looks like I’ll have to keep doing the blog entries on the interviews. I’m two behind, and we have THREE interviews today — plus all the usual work of a routine day. Before this is over, I’ll be looking back nostalgically on ONLY three interviews…
    Doug, I appreciate your desire for additional info. That’s why I do this. David is right. An awful lot goes into it. The one time that we invested in one in my memory, it took a professional court reporter weeks to get it back to us. That’s why using a recorder in interviews is a big time waster. It’s nice to have the backup for notes, but it takes an awful lot of time to track down and transcribe even a single quote.
    As for your suggestion about school board interviews — that’s my fondest wish, in terms of endorsements. I think it could be enormously valuable to readers — far more so than an endorsement for president.
    The trouble is, it’s going to be more difficult than you can imagine to schedule the 55 legislative, county and statewide candidates we’re doing between now and the beginning of June. It’s hard at this point to see how we’re going to — a couple of people here are spending a good part of their days just trying to coordinate the schedule, setting and resetting appointments.
    Talking to school board candidates, just here in Lexington and Richland counties, would more than double the number of interviews. We couldn’t figure a way to do that back when I had four associate editors. Now I only have three.
    We’ve thought about several options, including group interviews — say, all of the candidates for a particular district at a time (there are seven districts in the two counties). I didn’t want to do that, because I don’t think there’d be much value in that.
    Finally, to answer Ready to Hurl — if you’ve been betting against our endorsements, you’ve been losing a lot of money. I hope you’re not too bitter about it.
    After the last election, I did a 10-year count of endorsements in general elections. Why general elections? Because my main interest was in seeing if there was any kind of partisan pattern (I knew there wasn’t, but it doesn’t hurt to quantify so you can tell people).
    Anyway, in the course of doing that, I discovered that 75 percent of the people we had endorsed in general elections had won.

  10. Ready to Hurl

    Hats off to ya, Brad, for doing the survey.
    Your endorsement of the candidates that I’ve followed has been the kiss of death.
    I was going to make a smartass comment about you being 75% responsible for the crappy elected officials, but, then I remembered your “out”: the choice is usually limited to tweedle dumb or tweedle dumber.

  11. Dave

    RTH – The 04 Bush endorsement wasn’t a kiss of death. Can you name one politician (elected) in SC that you actually support? Let us know.

  12. Ready to Hurl

    Dave, none currently holding office. That’s because the elected officials more closely resemble your embrace of racist, class-biased, reactionary fantasyland than reality.
    You’re right. The ’04 Bush endorsement wasn’t the kiss of death electorally for Bush, just acquiescence to the end of any semblance of our democratic republic.
    There you have The State choosing to endorse a warmonger who lied and deceived his fellow Americans into a war. (Talk about “high crimes!”)
    The board had a choice: a liar with a proven record of incompetence and no exit plan or a man who volunteered for combat in an unpopular war and came back to fight against wasting more lives; a man who screwed up every endeavor inside and outside of government versus a man who learned how the republican form of government works from the inside for decades.
    At some point The State has to acknowledge that it exists in a beknighted state still accurately described by Gov. Petigru’s statement: “Too large to be an asylum and too small to be a republic.”
    They had to make a choice: be pilloried by your compatriot clods for no good reason (since Bush was going to win SC, anyway) or make a principled stand.

  13. Dave

    RTH- You answered my question, you only support losers. Not surprised. I bet you would be a Patrick Kennedy supporter but maybe not since he actually did win an election. Does the Kennedy family get a special group discount at rehab centers? Either that, or they like to vacation at drug rehab facilities. Martha’s Ferry must be very boring in comparison. haaaaaaaaaaaahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

  14. Ready to Hurl

    Someday, Dave, you may advance beyond the mindset of 13-year-old.
    I’m not holding my breath, though.

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