Newspapers want voters armed with information when they head to the ballot box on Election Day.
That’s why we cover campaign stops and forums, write analyses of the top contested races and issue editorials. We present readers with the facts and — if they want them — our editorial opinions (but only on the designated and labeled “Opinion” page). After that, voters make their own, more-informed decisions.
The Des Moines Register was on the same mission this week when the Iowa newspaper successfully pressed Barack Obama’s presidential campaign to allow it to publish the details of an off-the-record conversation between the Register’s editors and the president. Obama previously stipulated that the discussion be for background use only — to aid the newspaper in its decision on whom to endorse in the presidential race.
But the newspaper had immediate regrets after the conversation. In the interview, Obama spelled out his plans for a second term, as well as made potentially controversial comments about Republicans failing to secure the Latino vote. It was information the Register felt its readers had a right to know, particularly since GOP candidate Mitt Romney had spoken candidly and openly with the newspaper’s editorial board and staff.
One of the editors wrote an opinion piece explaining the situation to the Register’s readers, while also pressuring the Obama camp to untie the editorial board’s hands and allow it to report the president’s remarks. It was an unusual move, particularly since the newspaper went into the interview knowing the conditions set by Obama, but eventually the president’s campaign gave in. His comments were made public Wednesday.
The Herald, fortunately, has had much less complicated meetings and discussions with local candidates for elected office.
In June, we invited the 15 candidates running in contested races in the Aug. 7 primary to The Herald for interviews with the newspaper’s editorial board, as well as for on-camera interviews with a Herald reporter. The meetings were immensely helpful to our staff in learning more about the candidates. Consequently, our readers also got a more complete view of those vying for their parties’ spot on the ballot.
The videos of candidate interviews — posted online at www.ottawaherald.com and shown on the GAC 20 TV channel — proved popular with potential voters, as well as with the candidates themselves. People told us they felt more engaged in the process, as many of them had not had an opportunity to meet the candidates in person, nor see them at a public forum. The videos allowed voters to see and hear the office seekers discuss their top issues in their own words.
We invited the candidates in contested general election races — those who won their primary races, along with those who were unopposed in the primary — to The Herald earlier this month for another round of interviews. With the exception of one candidate, Senate District 12 hopeful Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, (who also declined to take part in the summer interviews) all the local politicos appeared happy to participate in our attempt to better inform the people of Ottawa and Franklin County about all those names on their ballots.
Though some of the conversations occasionally detoured — only momentarily — into the off-the-record territory, the candidates gave us great insight into their positions and perspectives on the offices they are seeking. We learned a lot about why they are running and what they hope to accomplish if put in office by voters. We also picked up on a few, less-consequential tid bits only possible through face-to-face meetings. Among them: Each of the participating candidates showed up early ... some as many as 30 minutes before their scheduled interview time; appointed incumbent Stephen Hunting, who hopes to be elected Franklin County attorney, is incredibly friendly and down-to-earth for a prosecutor; and House District 5 hopeful Kevin Jones is possibly the most dapper politician we’ve ever met.
We’re grateful to candidates on both sides of the political aisle for taking part in this project, and encourage readers to watch the videos of their recent interviews online at www.ottawaherald.com
Armed with information, voters can’t lose.
[Editor’s note: For those who care, the Des Moines Register plans to announce its presidential endorsement today. The Herald’s endorsement in the White House race will be published Tuesday.]
Tommy Felts is Herald managing editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org