Slusher: In a week of controversy, how endorsements are made

By Jim Slusher

The sensational news of the week regarding Daily Herald endorsements involved one we took back, our decision to rescind our endorsement of Burt Minor in the Republican primary for the Illinois House in the 42nd District.

That decision was the product of extensive interviews, research and debate by our Editorial Board. We explained our reasoning in a Daily Herald editorial on Wednesday, but the situation calls attention to all our endorsements, so it seems in order to discuss the process by which we determine the candidates and issues we support.

To a degree, the process is similar to that by which we produce the consensus opinions that take the form of our "Our View" editorials and the institutional voice of the newspaper every day. A member or members of our editorial board, whose names are at the top of the Opinion page, suggest a topic and an approach to it. Our board discusses it - sometimes at length, sometimes through general concurrence with views that are proposed. A member writes the editorial and submits it to the board for review, comment and revisions.

Much the same happens with election endorsements, except that with hundreds of candidates and dozens of local issues to consider, we have to expand the reach of our editorial board and make the process even more formal and organized. Editorial board members and top newsroom editors are assigned races and issues to review. They read everything they can find on their candidates, study the questionnaires the candidates provide and interact with candidates through face-to-face meetings, telephone conversations, forums or other direct contacts where candidates are grilled on issues. Then, they recommend an endorsement to the full editorial board. Sometimes, their recommendations are accepted outright. Often, they are questioned and probed, and directions are given about how to approach the nuances of a certain race. Occasionally, the board is not convinced and will work through discussion to select a candidate other than the one originally recommended. Very often, the board must sort between candidates when an editor either is having trouble deciding who to support or sees differing strengths among individuals that could sway our opinion.

It is, in short, a demanding process and a job we take very seriously as a responsibility to our communities. As a central point for information and ideas, we have unusual access to political candidates. That access can be valuable in assessing the qualifications and qualities of people who aspire to elected positions, and we believe we should used it to offer voters some perspectives they might get otherwise.

Does that mean our endorsements are more credible than others or should override the opinions that everyday voters develop independently? Of course not. But they are credible, and we believe informed voters benefit by reflecting on the judgments we reach through our research and debate. As we saw this week, in very rare cases, we have to take a second look at judgments we've made, and we approach those circumstances with the same profound sense of duty that drives this entire process. In the end, the decision that is important is the one that each voter slips into the ballot box. We hope that by leveraging our access and research, he or she can feel a bit more comfortable with the conclusions indicated on that ballot.

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