TNT election endorsements have long tradition. Here’s how we’re tweaking it this year

Voters across America could easily be snookered into thinking next year’s election is the only one that matters.

The news media’s breathless coverage of the Democratic horserace, Trump administration chaos and endless minutiae from the 2020 presidential campaign can feel like an all-powerful gravitational force.

I’ve been sucked in by this vortex, and The News Tribune feeds it. Letters to the editor give voice to it nearly every day.

Now it’s time to crawl out of the black hole and let the light shine in.

All those yard signs on your street corner, fliers in your mailbox and candidates on your doorstep should be dead giveaways that a local election is in full swing — and it matters mightily.

Leaders elected in 2019 will help decide the utility rates you pay, the number of cops in your neighborhood and teachers in your kids’ schools. They’ll help determine whether your streets have potholes or sidewalks, and whether your port keeps creating living-wage jobs.

The TNT Editorial Board has been meeting with primary election contenders over the last few weeks. Endorsements for those we think best suited for local office will be published over the next several days.

We’re zeroing in on Pierce County’s three largest cities (Tacoma, Lakewood and Puyallup), plus the Tacoma School Board and Port of Tacoma Commission.

Take ‘em or leave ‘em, our endorsements are nothing more than the consensus opinion of five reasonably informed people. We think there’s value in our perspective, as there is hearing from anyone who follows local news closely and has direct access to candidates and public officials.

Doing the homework is important, but gut instincts also come into play. The process isn’t scientific and we’re not averse to refining it.

This year, for instance, you may notice a change from a longstanding endorsement tradition.

In races with three or more candidates, we historically have picked two favorites to advance beyond the primary, then waited until the general election to settle on a final choice.

This will be my fourth election season as TNT editorial page editor, and I have to admit I’ve always viewed this custom as peculiar. It differs from the unequivocal endorsement practice of other newspapers, including the Seattle Times. They pick one horse in the primary and ride it all the way to the runoff.

Perhaps the TNT’s approach helps build suspense; everyone likes a good cliffhanger, right? It certainly caters to the human impulse to procrastinate; why do today what you can put off until autumn?

For a deeper explanation, I reached out to my predecessor, Patrick O’Callahan. He reminded me that party politics is the root of the TNT’s dual-endorsement tradition.

“We tried to pick the best candidate from each party, in hopes of serving both constituencies and seeing the best possible choice in the runoff,” he said.

It’s an honorable goal, but O’Callahan and other former TNT opinion staffers said there’s nothing sacred about it.

Local elections are nonpartisan affairs, so this year seems like a good time to go in a different direction.

For each of the six offices we’re focusing on in the Aug. 6 primary, we plan to offer a single endorsement, then stick with it to November. Unless our choice doesn’t survive the primary. Or a major bombshell drops late in the campaign — the classic October surprise.

This fall we’ll roll out several additional endorsements ahead of the Nov. 5 general election, for races in which only two candidates filed to run. That includes three of the four Tacoma City Council seats up for grabs this year.

The bottom line, for me, is that this editorial board for years has extended itself a privilege voters don’t enjoy: choosing two people who are running for the same office.

Not since the ranked-choice voting experiment approved by Pierce County voters in 2006, then aborted three years later, have the people been allowed to mark more than one name in a contest.

So if South Sound voters are expected to shake off the summer doldrums and act decisively in the primary, it seems only fair that we do the same.

Just don’t ask us yet who we prefer in the 2020 election.

Reach editorial page editor Matt Misterek at (253) 597-8472 or by email at matt.misterek@thenewstribune.com


Rebecca Poynter is publisher of The News Tribune along with other McClatchy publications in Washington, plus the Idaho Statesman. She moved to Pierce County this year after previous management positions in Boise, Michigan and Kentucky.

Dale Phelps was named the TNT’s executive editor and vice president of news in 2017 and has served as an editor in the newsroom since 1998.

Matt Misterek was named TNT editorial page editor in 2016 after working as a local news team leader in the newsroom since 2003.

Karen Irwin is a 20-year Tacoma resident, former opinion page columnist and has worked as TNT editorial writer since 2016.

Pamela Transue is president emeritus of Tacoma Community College and has served as a community representative on the editorial board during election seasons since 2016.