Some may have felt pressured to write endorsement letters
November 11, 2014
Between Labor Day and Election Day, The Park Record published approximately 80 letters to the editor and guest editorials from citizens endorsing specific political candidates and we are very gratified that the writers felt our newspaper was an integral platform for their views. But now that the election and the surrounding campaign hubbub has subsided, we thought it would be a good time to reflect on how those letters may affect elections in a relatively small community like Summit County.
For the most part, the letters extolled the accomplishments and professional experience of the authors’ favorite candidates. In other instances they pointed out the failings of the challengers. We tried to publish all of the letters we received except in two or three cases where there were accusations that bordered on libel, were unverifiable or deemed as personal attacks.
Overall, it was a lively conversation and readers seemed to enjoy the exchange. Online, The Park Record Letters to the Editor section received more than 6,000 page views between Labor Day and the election.
But there is one growing trend in the letters that has us concerned. Over the last few years we have seen an increase in endorsements from other elected officials and from employees of department heads who are up for election.
Our concerns about the latter were triggered by some of the anonymous online commenters who suggested that employees in several county departments were being pressured to submit endorsements. That may or may not be true, but we can’t help wondering whether those who did not write glowing recommendations might feel at a disadvantage depending on who won or lost the race.
There were also several letters from elected officials taking sides in races where they will be expected to work closely with whoever wins. In the most recent county attorney’s race, for instance, three of the five council members endorsed the candidate who eventually lost. Although we are certain that both the council and the winner of the race will profess to harbor no ill will, a line was drawn in ink.
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In another example, three public officials asked that their official titles be left off their signatures on a letter endorsing one of the candidates in a high-profile local race. The request seemed disingenuous because their well-known names were attached to the letter.
Make no mistake about it: The Record does not want to discourage public debate. And if public officials want to endorse or critique their potential cohorts, we will give them the space to do so. But if local government employees are feeling pressured to publicly endorse their bosses, or those who may become their bosses, that must stop.
It is a complicated issue — one that treads on the sometimes difficult-to-define boundaries of free speech but it is one that can be resolved through open discussion and wise leadership.