Election endorsement do-overs don’t come easy to us

A conscientious voter will put in some work before marking a ballot. Newspaper endorsements are just one resource. Editorial boards do what they can to screen candidates - within limits.
A conscientious voter will put in some work before marking a ballot. Newspaper endorsements are just one resource. Editorial boards do what they can to screen candidates - within limits. MCT illustration

“Boy, were we wrong.”

With that terse declaration, the editorial board of the largest newspaper in New Hampshire did something last year that newspapers everywhere, including The News Tribune, would prefer never to have to do.

Dismount your high horse and express an ounce of humility, you say? Jaded opinion-page readers might reasonably assume that’s what we mean —and they wouldn’t be far off the mark.

The New Hampshire Union Leader retracted its endorsement in the state’s 2016 presidential primary. Editors there decided that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie proved himself unfit to lead the country when he started kissing up to Donald Trump.

Alas, the primary was over and Christie had dropped out of the race, so the retraction served no purpose other than to condemn the sycophancy in the Republican camp.

And it let opinion editors ‘fess up to the egg on their faces.

We at the TNT found ourselves in a similarly uncomfortable spot last week when we withdrew our endorsement of a candidate in a Tacoma City Council primary.

The circumstances were different in that our change of heart was based on information that came to light about the Tacoma candidate’s past legal troubles, rather than behavior that took place after the endorsement, ala Christie suddenly bowing before almighty Trump.

Another difference is that our retraction didn’t arrive too late.

Fortunately, we got a tip about the candidate’s background the same day our endorsement published. We looked into it, made a good-faith effort to talk to the candidate (she declined) and made the change quickly, only four days after ballots were mailed for an election that won’t be resolved until Aug. 1.

Still, we know some people vote early, and we regret some might’ve been influenced by our first take.

Just to be clear, our initial endorsement of District 5 candidates Janis Clark and Chris Beale can be summed up in four words:

Boy, were we wrong.

But we believe we ended up in the right place by narrowing our recommendation to Beale alone.

This editorial board takes its endorsement responsibility seriously, though we always urge readers not to overestimate our opinions and to independently check out candidates and ballot measures.

(And please pass along information that might be good for us to know.)

A handful of readers criticized us for not getting the District 5 endorsement right the first time. “No research, just editorial board gut feeling. Good night, journalism,” one website commenter said.

For the record, we actually do research candidates, quiz them in a group interview with their opponents and make sure our “gut feeling” is guided by the brain. But as much as we try to vet them before we give an endorsement, some succeed at hiding aspects of their lives.

Clark changed her name at least twice in the last decade after facing identity theft and multiple other charges in Pierce County Superior Court and being convicted of cocaine use in the Army. This made it difficult to track her through court records and TNT news archives.

When we asked about each candidate’s background and experience, Clark said nothing in her group interview about serially changing her name, having legal issues or being dismissed from the Army. Then again, we don’t ask candidates about name changes and legal/criminal histories directly.

We will be more deliberate in the next round of interviews before the general election.

For what it’s worth, this isn’t the first time our editorial board took a mulligan on an election recommendation, although the last un-endorsement recalled by now-retired TNT opinion editors happened nearly two decades ago.

Pierce County Auditor Cathy Pearsall-Stipek, who was running for reelection in 1998, lost the board’s support in light of the revelation that she had inflated her college resume.

Unimpressed by the rest of the field, the board ultimately declined to endorse anyone for auditor that year. Pearsall-Stipek’s most notable challenger was Dale Washam, the infamous county gadfly who would later go on to a disastrous term as assessor-treasurer.

Boy, were we wrong, the editorial board could’ve said after initially endorsing Pearsall-Stipek.

And yet, in the end, we got it right.

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

Our primary endorsements

  • Tacoma Council District 4: Kevin Grossman, Shalisa Hayes
  • Tacoma Council District 5: Chris Beale
  • Tacoma Council At-large Pos. 6: Gregory Christopher, Lillian Hunter, Meredith Neal
  • Puyallup District 1: John Hopkins, Jim Kastama
  • Puyallup District 2: Heather Shadko

To read the full endorsements, go online to http://www.thenewstribune.com/opinion/article162499203.html