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Endorsements a valuable public service

As Albuquerque voters get ready for another election – a mayoral and a City Council runoff next month – the Albuquerque Journal editorial board will again get ready to endorse candidates.

And while some readers will question the recommendations, others have already questioned how and why we do them at all.

Last month a reader sent in a letter after our endorsements appeared that said in part “Oh dear, will I ever live long enough to see the Journal endorse a Democrat? When they do they pick the one that they think will lose.”

Actually, although city elections are nonpartisan, the Journal endorsed three Democrats (and four Republicans) on the Oct. 3 ballot. In the 2016 general election we endorsed winning Democrats Sen. Tom Udall, Reps. Michelle Lujan-Grisham and Ben Ray Lujan.

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But we don’t pick candidates based on party or because we think they will win or lose – we pick candidates we believe, after doing an extensive amount of research, will best represent their prospective constituents and do the best job. More on that in a minute.

Reader Carolyn M. Green asks in her letter to the editor “how the paper ‘comes up’ with endorsements of candidates. It appears to me that a city newspaper should present information, articles, etc., on issues and candidates and let the voting public decide on the issues and candidates they choose, without bias from that newspaper. Please explain who within the company decides these endorsements?”

And she asks for “the reason why a paper, whom most would agree its job is to report the news, sees itself as needing to dictate to its readers those candidates and issues the readers should vote simply because the paper says so. Is this not some form of conflict of interests or … an unfair use of journalistic power?”

To answer her last question first, no. For starters, readers don’t have to listen to us – and they often don’t. RSM sent in this Speak Up item published last month: “I always wait for the Journal’s endorsements before I vote in an election. I cut the endorsements out of the paper and take them with me to the polls. That way, I have a list of who not to vote for.”

And to address the first question: Journal reporters do provide comprehensive coverage of candidates and issues – profiles, issue stories, campaign finance stories. The newsroom also sends out questionnaires and posts the candidates’ answers on our website. In this past election, the Journal printed the entire sick leave ordinance and a two-thirds page explainer on its pros and cons. The newsroom reporters do this independent of the editorial board, and often do not know what position the paper is taking until the last minute.

The editorial board endorses candidates for public office and weighs in on bond issues, mill levies, ordinances and constitutional amendments because we recognize that few people have the time or access we have to compile questionnaires, comb through news coverage, ask community leaders their opinions, read the letters and columns submitted on the candidates and issues, gather up as much campaign literature as we can lay our hands on, and sit down and interview the candidates.

We do that for every city, county and state race that affects the Albuquerque metro area, as well as every statewide and congressional contest in New Mexico. Not every candidate takes us up on the interview, but we offer it.

Because while political endorsements are among the most time-consuming things we do as a board, they are among the most important things we do for our readers. An informed electorate is a cornerstone of democracy, and we take our role as the Fourth Estate very seriously.

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Newspapers have endorsed candidates for more than a century. In fact, the New York Times endorsed Lincoln for president. (The Journal wasn’t publishing when Honest Abe ran in 1860 – the first Albuquerque Daily Journal was published on Oct. 14, 1880.)

To Carolyn’s question, the editorial board is made up of myself as editorial page editor, editorial writer Charles Brunt, editorial writer Sharon Hendrix, editorial cartoonist John Trever, editor Karen Moses and senior editor Kent Walz. In addition to the interviews and research already mentioned, in the most recent election both Kent and Karen moderated candidate debates, and we have also talked with the reporters who have covered the candidates.

And we take all that information into a conference room and over a period of days debate who would be the best person for each office. Is all the effort worth it? We receive calls every election season asking when our endorsements will appear.

Maybe some are like RSM who want the list so they can vote the opposite. But as an editorial board we spend weeks before each election gathering information so we can make informed recommendations to our readers.

And then we hope our readers make an informed decision and vote, whether they follow our recommendations or not.

Reach editorial page editor D’Val Westphal at 823-3858 or dwestphal@abqjournal.com. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

 

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