Endorsements still serve purpose

In this summer’s primaries, Gov. Sonny Perdue and his predecessor, Roy Barnes, both endorsed candidates. Former U.S. Housing Secretary Jack Kemp and former U.S. Reps. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) also offered up endorsements. And if you believe the so-called family-value candidates, so did God.

The intervention — divine or otherwise — seemed to make little difference in the outcomes of many races, suggesting that the public ultimately cast its vote with playwright Henrik Ibsen, who said: “It is inexcusable for scientists to torture animals; let them make their experiments on journalists and politicians.”

When County Commission Chairman Wayne Hill loses the GOP primary in Gwinnett despite multiple endorsements, including that of the governor, the question arises: In this age of e-mail, direct mailings and TV ads, does a well-informed public really need someone else to sift through candidates?

While voters shouldn’t be persuaded by endorsements, they ought to be informed by them. Endorsements — especially those from advocacy groups — can help voters sort through competing claims.

For example, environment-first voters should run for the hills when a candidate with a platform of clean air and land conservation is shunned by the Sierra Club or the Green Party. And if voters are seeking the most conservative choice, they should look elsewhere if a candidate earns the blessing of the NARAL Pro-Choice America or the National Education Association.

This newspaper has a tradition of publishing endorsements that are based on interviews with candidates and reviews of their records by editorial board members, who play no role in the news coverage of the elections. The task of sitting down with hundreds of candidates is long and tedious and generates debate inside and outside the editorial board.

Many readers, especially those who disagree with endorsements, suspect that a liberal litmus test is applied. The reality, however, is that on a local level, most candidates have largely unformed political philosophies. Virtually all promise to cut taxes, build new recreation centers and pay for Granny’s prescription drugs. Only a handful have any real idea of how to do so.

The challenge, then, is not to find candidates who agree with the editorial positions of this newspaper, but to find candidates who have an understanding of the offices they seek, a clear sense of what they’re trying to accomplish and who appear to have the competence to serve productively.

Informed readers have their own opinions as to which of the candidates best represents their values and interests, and that is the ideal of democracy. Endorsements by newspapers or interest groups can complement the personal research of an informed voter.