We treat endorsements more seriously than you should

Having endorsed a Democrat for president for the first time in its 126-year history, it’s no surprise that a newspaper with a reliably conservative reputation in a rock-ribbed Republican state would be deluged with canceled subscriptions.

The Arizona Republic editorial board braced for a backlash when it endorsed Hillary Clinton this month. So did the Dallas Morning News, which went with a Democrat for the first time since 1940, and several other traditional conservative publications.

Threats to quit the paper come with the territory during election season — even in Tacoma, where the daily newspaper endorsing a Democrat hardly rates as breaking news and where we’ve been sounding the alarm about Donald Trump since last year.

But death threats against staffers at the Arizona Republic? Craven messages like the one promising “WE WILL BURN YOU DOWN”? An anonymous caller malevolently invoking the memory of an investigative reporter who was assassinated in a downtown Phoenix car bombing 40 years ago?

All these reactions were beyond the pale, proving that the curdled politics of 2016 had somehow turned even more sour.

Since when do the views of a newspaper editorial board rise to the level of life-and-death importance?

We don’t know whether to be flattered, amused or apprehensive.

In Tacoma, The News Tribune is blessed with readers who offer measured criticism, knowing better than to overestimate the value of our opinions.

“I do not agree with the endorsements done by the TNT and personally see no reason for them to put forth their editorial opinion, but they have, so I will encourage all voters to do their own research,” Kareen Shanks of Puyallup wrote in a letter to the editor in September, responding to our endorsements in some state legislative races.

All told, the TNT Editorial Board this year wrote endorsements for 60 elected offices and ballot measures in the primary and general elections — throwing our support to a mix of Democrats and Republicans, giving thumbs up to some progressive issues, thumbs down to others.

We take the work seriously, spending dozens of hours conducting in-person interviews, supplemented by research and followed by lively discussions among the six board members trying to reach consensus.

But Kareen Shanks raises a fair point: Why do we put forth our election opinions in the first place?

First, it’s worth noting that endorsement decisions are compartmentalized, separate from news coverage decisions made on the other side of the building.

And let me assure you no money is at stake. Endorsing a candidate isn’t like handicapping horses or dropping cash in a college football pool. Nobody’s success, failure or job security at the TNT is determined by how many races we pick correctly. We won’t huddle around the water cooler on Nov. 9 discussing whether Gov. Jay Inslee covered the spread.

We also have no expectation nor desire for voters to use our endorsements as a rote checklist when they mark their ballots. (Although we do accept the possibility some curmudgeons might vote a straight anti-TNT ticket; one judicial candidate called our endorsement “the kiss of death.”)

A big reason we do this, at risk of sounding glib, is simple: We talk to politicians so you don’t have to. We grilled a total of 103 candidates, plus a couple of dozen ballot measure proponents and opponents, because you probably don’t have the access and you certainly don’t have the time.

While candidates and issues at the top of the ballot get a studious effort from us, it is buried deep amid the down-ballot bedrock where we think we can be most useful. There’s pride to be taken in helping illuminate the most hyperlocal races (think Superior Court judge) and the most esoteric ballot measures (think county charter amendments). We have no delusions that a TNT presidential endorsement will change many minds.

We also endorse because we see it as a responsibility of a daily newspaper to join the dialogue around voting, the most fundamental of civic duties — not necessarily to lead the conversation and most definitely not to hijack it, but perhaps to help moderate it.

And you can’t join a dialogue without putting your persuasive capital behind what you believe, even at risk of being wrong at times.

The rest is up to you. Letter writer Kareen wins a hearty hallelujah from us when she advises voters to do as much research as possible.

The daily newspaper in Vancouver, Washington, includes qualifying language in every endorsement it publishes: “As always, this is merely a recommendation designed to foster discussion. The Columbian trusts that voters will examine the candidates and study the issues before casting an informed ballot.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

News Tribune editorial page editor Matt Misterek can be reached by email at matt.misterek@thenewstribune.com, or by phone at 253-597-8472.

Read complete endorsements online

If you want to read any of our 60 endorsements, you can find them on one handy clickable page on our website, bit.ly/TNTendorsements

For the full TNT online voter guide: bitly.com/tntvoterguide