The Good, the Bad, and the Not-quite Ready in the North Texas Primary

There is not a lot of humor in politics these days, and maybe there shouldn't be. But I can't help but grin a little in retrospect as I look back on a moment last month when a team of editorial writers here at The Dallas Morning News was interviewing Republican candidates running against Sen. Ted Cruz in last Tuesday's primary.It might help to first have a little context about the process that leads up to the paper's editorial recommendations for local, state and federal offices. This year, we weighed in with recommendations in 75 contested Democratic or Republican races. We took sides in all but one of those races, something we do even if we don't like either candidate. If we say voting is a duty, then we must recommend in as many races as we can. We only let ourselves off the hook if no candidate in a race meets even the most basic standards of competence or integrity.In each race, we invite all the candidates to come to the newspaper for a group interview. This year, close to 200 said yes. We tend to staff each meeting with two writers and an editor, and writers take turns handling the research about each candidate and writing the final editorial. That's a lot of work over 10 weeks for a staff of five full-time writers and three editors. We asked ourselves late last year whether we could really afford to devote so many resources to this process. The answer from Editor Mike Wilson, and in our own hearts, was of course yes. It's a public service that is not duplicated anywhere in the market. We feel readers, whether we persuade them on a particular candidate or not, rely on the research we do, including the questionnaires we gather from the candidates, to help settle on their own ballot choices. Still, by the time the process is over, it can feel like a graduate-school grind. By then, I am looking for any moment of levity.On the last day of these interviews, we welcomed candidates running against Cruz. It's our custom to offer sitting governors and U.S. senators solo meetings with the board, but Cruz — who went on to win the primary — declined. One of the candidates who accepted our invitation to a group interview was Austin accountant Mary Miller. She struck me as perfectly reasonable. Miller was so reasonable to my liberal ears, that I began to wonder whether she was a Republican at all. How fair would it be to GOP voters to recommend someone whose positions seemed so liberal? So I asked her: What could she say to reassure a conservative primary voters that she really is conservative? She answered with gusto. "I am a big Second Amendment girl," she said, pausing for emphasis. "However, I do think we can ban some things." Turns out, her list of things to ban largely matches my own: assault rifles and magazines with 20 or more rounds, for instance. And, like me, she's for expanded background checks and against concealed-carry reciprocity. These are all good ideas in my book, and frankly mostly ones this conservative-leaning editorial board has supported. But if that's the best example of her conservative bona fides? Let's just say I wasn't convinced we could recommend her in good conscience to replace Cruz.The gusto with which she answered had made me smile. But I mean no disrespect. There were certainly low points in the process devoid of any hint of light-heartedness. Dallas attorney J.J. Koch argued he could whup all the Dallas County Commissioners, and he's start by sitting John Wiley Price down and talking to him as he would his son. Koch seemed to think this approach could bring a kind of comity to the court. None of us was much convinced that here was a recipe for harmony. Still, Koch garnered the largest share of votes in his primary and advances to a run-off. Still, I give both Miller and Koch credit. Like nearly 200 other candidates, they showed up for the interviews and completed our questionnaires. They paid respect not to us, but to the voters who read our work and the questionaires. That's what made the 10 weeks of study especially rewarding for me. That was true for races in which the decisions seemed easy to me, and the ones in which the ideological differences between candidates were vanishingly small. I hope this list of candidates who exemplified for me both ends of that spectrum will offer a peek inside the paper's recommendation process, a view offered from the vantage point of just one of the writers who made it happen.  Continue reading...

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