DMN Coverage

Campain Roundup

Dallas Morning News, The (TX)

Candidate interviews: the good, the bad and the bizarre
KEVEN ANN WILLEY   
Published: February 22, 2004



You sure learn a lot about the community when you talk to candidates running for public office. The Dallas Morning News editorial board just spent four weeks interviewing 51 candidates in 20 different races.

Whew!

 

Talking to candidates is just one of the tools we used to develop the primary election recommendations you see excerpted here today. But talking to the candidates is good. So is experiencing. That's why we invited the candidates in each given race to meet with us together. For most candidates, this wasn't a big deal. If they can't make their case in front of their opponent with a handful of editorial writers, after all, how can they expect to be effective once in office?

 

The two Republicans vying to take on Democratic Rep. Lon Burnam of Fort Worth handled this just fine. In fact Clifford Proffitt and Larry Keilberg sometimes seemed inclined to help one another answer our questions so relaxed were they about their competition.

 

Others were more nervous about the setting. A couple of the judicial candidates, for example, squirmed at having to sit at the same table with their opponents.

 

But to their credit, not a single incumbent in any of the state and local races declined to interview with us together with their challenger(s). Only two candidates declined to interview with us in person, and one of them plugged into the meeting by phone.

 

One candidate I was impressed by was Republican state Rep. Toby Goodman of Arlington. He seemed to recognize the need for the state to invest more heavily in public education and a seamless transit system for North Texas, He vowed to help restore cutbacks in the Children's Health Insurance Program and help lead the fight to make recorded votes routine.

 

By contrast, his opponent handed out business-card sized magnets that declared "Homosexuality is sin. Abortion is murder. Cut taxes 74 percent." If that sort of strident style wasn't enough to set my teeth on edge, he promptly declared in the meeting that as a legislator he'd "propose a constitutional amendment to repeal public education."

Yikes.

 

Everybody was polite. That's not always the case. Once, in a similar interview setting at my former newspaper in Phoenix, the incumbent yakked on his cellphone as we escorted him and his challengers into the boardroom, seated them and sought to start the meeting. There were probably a dozen people seated around the table waiting to begin, but the young-and-rather-officious legislator kept chatting for a good five minutes and then, after concluding, noted off-handedly "Sorry, my campaign manager...."

The guy didn't win our recommendation.

 

Some of our decisions this year were difficult. Two of the four Republicans running for sheriff were impressive, as were all four Democrats seeking the nomination. We found ourselves wishing they weren't all running against one another.

 

Other decisions were easier. In one congressional race in a heavily GOP district, for example, both candidates in the Democratic primary are political neophytes. One owns a company; the other is unemployed. Call me old-fashioned, but I'm generally looking for stronger qualifications than needing a job in candidates seeking elective office.

 

A lot of people think Texas is a wide-open state where anybody with a little gumption and smarts can get ahead, a place where titles, seniority and social registries don't count. I'm not sure that's true, at least not politically. Some Texans seem to place disproportionate value on title, seniority and incumbency.

 

Poor Brian Rubarts, running for Congress, has had a rough go of it with some members of his own party, folks who have made it clear they think this 32-year-old political upstart shouldn't challenge veteran Sam Johnson, 73. Never mind that raw energy, new ideas and unbridled competition are the keystones of Texas tradition. We wound up recommending Mr. Johnson for re-election, mainly because the newcomer's positions on key issues don't differ dramatically from Mr. Johnson's, but what a blessing to witness Mr. Rubarts' vigor and intelligence. He's just the sort of young Republican the party should want to recruit.

 

So what did we learn from all this interviewing? Three things, essentially.

First, there are a lot of incumbents out there who want to hang onto their jobs despite complaints about the generally low pay and relentless public pressure.

 

Second, we as journalists are blessed with the luxury to personally probe, question and challenge the candidates in hopes of determining who best will honor the public trust.

 

And third, we better start wind-sprint training now to prepare for making this climb again in a few months, about the time the general election contests start heating up.

 

Keven Ann Willey is editorial page editor of The Dallas Morning News. Her e-mail address is kwilley@dallasnews.com.


Copyright 2004 The Dallas Morning News