Wyoming’s two largest newspapers endorsed Matt Mead for governor. I can only imagine what an exhaustive process that must have been for the editorial boards of the Casper Star-Tribune and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.
The mental gymnastics necessary to come up with such a sage recommendation for voters required so many twists and turns of logic on behalf of the governor’s re-election campaign, they put Harry Houdini’s contortion abilities to shame. On top of the energy the boards had to expend, there was the task of condescendingly dismissing Mead’s extremely well-qualified Democratic opponent, Pete Gosar, who was insultingly treated by the Star-Tribune like someone barely worth mentioning.
Actually, I don’t have to imagine what the process was like, because I used to be an active participant in such activities. I wrote editorials for both newspapers (Wyoming Eagle, 1987-93; Star-Tribune, 2005-13) so I’m well-acquainted with how endorsements are made and what weight readers should probably give them.
Every election I fielded calls from some irate readers who wondered how we dared to tell them who to vote for. Why should the newspaper’s opinion count so much, or even be considered at all?
I explained the editorial board has access to candidates the vast majority of voters could never get. Members of the board took the time to interview politicians and get their views on some of the most important issues, then met to discuss what they heard and evaluate the candidates.
Those discussions could be thoughtful, argumentative, disagreeable or consensus-building — everything you can imagine it takes for human beings to reach a joint decision they will all effectively have their names on. I never experienced an election year where every member was happy with every endorsement, but generally we managed to agree on certain shared values that our employer felt should be reflected by the candidates.
It’s a process I respect, and one that generally benefits readers, who should consider it to be exactly what it purports to be and nothing more: an informed opinion, but nonetheless only an opinion. Newspaper editorial boards do their work as part community service, part corporate responsibility.
Make no mistake: It’s not a democratic process. A candidate who receives a majority of “votes” from the board members is not automatically the one who receives a paper’s endorsement. I have never seen an endorsement of a candidate who did not receive the approval of the publisher, who ultimately bears the responsibility for what appears on the opinion page as the “voice” of the company.
Here’s the general rule of thumb — the higher the office, the more input a publisher is likely to exercise. Endorsements for school board candidates may actually reflect the opinion of a majority of board members, and they may also agree on an endorsement for governor. But the latter is not made without a publisher’s approval. If a board’s vote is 6-1, but the one is cast by a publisher, guess who gets endorsed?
Newspaper readers should investigate a wide range of opinions about which candidate will do the best job. Read a newspaper with a grain of salt, and consider if it made a reasonable argument that one candidate is superior.
Sometimes, as with the two Mead endorsements by the Star-Tribune and Tribune Eagle, a full shaker of salt is required. And in this particular case, it would be better to use a dump truck loaded with the stuff.
I can easily summarize both endorsements: Mead is far from perfect, and while he’s certainly made mistakes, Wyoming’s economy could have tanked but it’s all right so he deserves another four years.
“[Mead has] made the state better. He’s willing to admit when he’s been wrong, and his points of emphasis — economy, natural resources and technology — are the right ones,” concludes the Star-Tribune.
The Tribune Eagle says, “We believe Gov. Matt Mead has proven himself a solid performer who has helped to move Wyoming forward. There is no good reason to take his hands off the wheel of the ship of state now.”
Well, I can think of many reasons to not only remove his hands from the wheel, but also put him somewhere where he can never conceivably touch the wheel again — and I don’t have to look very far. Quite unbelievably, both papers point out in their endorsements precisely why Mead lacks the same qualities it later applauds him for having.
The Cheyenne paper chides the governor for his lack of leadership on Medicaid expansion, marriage equality, raising science standards, and allowing the University of Wyoming to hide its presidential search from the public. On the latter issue, combined with executive agencies charging the public for copies of public documents, it scolds Mead: “That he hasn’t ordered an end to this willful breaking of the law does not speak well for the alleged head of state.”
It says he has yet to find a penny of the $60 million the Department of Transportation needs for highways, which is obviously of no small concern.
Meanwhile, the Star-Tribune reminds voters, “Let’s face it, the Cindy Hill/Senate File 104 situation was a nightmare for everyone.”
Whether you believe Mead orchestrated the Legislature’s campaign to effectively remove Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill from office or merely approved it, the mess it created — which the Wyoming Supreme Court finally ended with the embarrassing ruling that SF 104 was unconstitutional — did incredible damage to the state’s public education system.
That’s the same system the Tribune Eagle credits Mead for “properly stak[ing] out a stronger position on education.”
The governor rubber-stamped the lawmakers’ decision to not even let the Wyoming Board of Education discuss the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Why? Because the energy industry might be offended that NGSS says man is responsible for planet-wrecking climate change, a fact agreed to by 98 percent of the world’s leading scientists.
Let’s be brutally frank: Mead’s failure to expand Medicaid was not merely a lack of leadership, it was a massive bungling of his responsibilities as chief executive. His decision led directly to the state losing at least $70 million so far, with more federal funds going down the drain daily, while at the same time he denied 17,600 poor working adults health insurance coverage. To top it off, the state now has to spend $80 million a year more on the program.
Endorsements? He’s lucky no one has brought up impeachment.
Rather than negotiate with the federal government on areas of disagreement — which Gosar points out is the correct response — Mead’s first reaction has been to sue. Wyoming has more than 30 active lawsuits against the feds, and is even involved in one in Idaho that that state wants no part of.
Both endorsements acknowledge the editorial boards agree with Gosar about a majority of issues, including Medicaid expansion, marriage equality, school standards, and investing some of the state’s surplus in infrastructure. Yet both conclude he isn’t ready to be governor because he lacks experience and hasn’t held elective office. Neither had Mead when the two papers endorsed him in the 2010 GOP primary over candidates who previously had been elected to public offices.
You don’t even have to read between the lines to get the newspapers’ tacit message: Mead has made terrible policy decisions and will probably continue to, but at least he didn’t screw up our minerals-based economy — which likely would have performed exactly as it did no matter who was in office.
Meanwhile, saying Gosar gets short shrift is an understatement. The Star-Tribune pats him on the head and says maybe he should consider running for another office, like city council. “Gosar has potential, and we hope he continues to grow,” the Star-Tribune says.
Great. Perhaps, when he becomes an older white guy with a few more conservative values, they’ll endorse Gosar for something. Until then, these Fourth Estate representatives are quite content to put Mead back in office, despite a shabby, amateurish performance that should lead to his becoming a private citizen again. That fresh young guy with all of the good ideas? Not ready for prime time.
Mead’s clumsy approach to governing has supplied both companies with a wealth of fodder for news stories. Maybe the boards just want to keep dancing with the devil who brought them. It racks up a lot of Internet traffic and hikes likes on their Facebook pages with each new gubernatorial flub.
— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is a contributor to WyoHistory.org. He also moderates the WyPols blog.
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