Endorsement candidates: check your guns, baseball bats

As my colleague Jim Slusher pointed out the other day, we're enmeshed in the process of determining which candidates we'll endorse for elected local offices - from U.S. Senate to such county administrative offices as recorder and auditor.

Jim highlighted the face-to-face interviews we attempt to do with all the aforementioned candidates (a few decline), and how they - along with questionnaires they fill out, the stories we write and other research - help our editorial board collaboratively choose a candidate for endorsement.

I would like to go beyond the process, though, and share some of our observations from when we conduct these in-person interviews in the hope of giving you a flavor for some of things we've witnessed. I am not naming names so as not to tip our hands on whom we're planning to endorse.

• It's not uncommon for candidates to arrive with a campaign staffer in tow. We allow them to witness the interview - as long as the opponent is OK with it. (They usually are.) But the staffer for one candidate sat next to his guy and wrote him notes as the reporter and editor asked their questions.

• In one particularly contentious race, an editor said, two sheriff candidates "really could not stand each other. They argued openly and loudly. At one point, only half-jokingly, I suggested that they check their firearms at the door."

• Many of our suburban candidates are pretty good; they really don't fit the stereotype of "the lazy, self-absorbed and self-interested hacks that people tend to associate with lawmakers," one editor said. "They acknowledge contrary points of view respectfully, but if you're in a room with them, you can't help but find them likable and engaging - and more importantly, give their viewpoint serious weight and consideration. This, it seems to me, is what makes an effective elected leader, much more than a passionate orator. I could click off the names of at least a dozen lawmakers from both parties who fit this description."

• More than one person doing the interviews - and I would agree - said that if all elected officials could be as accommodating and polite as they are in the interviews, maybe we'd have a little less raw partisanship, especially in the notoriously acrimonious General Assembly. Another editor told of a session in which one candidate clearly was more qualified, but actually helped his opponent who was struggling for answers. "As I left the office about 20 minutes later - it was dark out - I spied the two candidates smiling and talking further in the middle of the parking lot, and, unaware of my presence, they shook hands and went their separate ways. I thought that if those two candidates who were running against each other could both get elected, perhaps there would be more respectful and meaningful conversation in Springfield."

Another editor said her candidates "spent much of the time complimenting each other's ideas and bodies of work. After they left, I thought if only they both could both be elected, how great they would be for the county."

And finally, from another editor: "The candidates expressed great respect for each other. In fact, the incumbent praised the challenger for attending all the county board meetings, pointing out that's something many of the elected members don't do. It was refreshing."

• In addition to the questions about issues and policy, we also ask the candidates on their questionnaires some lighter, yet thought-provoking questions that might provide some insight on the candidate, the person. Candidates are asked to name a leader who inspires them ("Pope Francis" is an answer I most commonly see), and what was the biggest lesson they learned growing up. But one remarkable reply came to the question, "If life gave you one do-over, what would you spend it on?" One candidate's reply? "My marriage."

• Finally, from the swear-I'm-not-making-this-up category, an editor said he interviewed a candidate "who proudly proclaimed that when his son went out, he kept a baseball bat by the door and intended to use it on him if he came in late."

In addition, the editor said, the candidate was ill-informed on every issue, so the lack of endorsement never was in doubt, but the experience was "a lesson in the variety of human nature, that this guy thought saying this would somehow not only be OK but would impress people basically interviewing him for a job."

Remember to vote Nov. 8!

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