Des Moines Register punts on down-ballot statewide offices

The “newspaper Iowa depends upon” won’t endorse a candidate in this year’s races for attorney general, state treasurer, secretary of state, secretary of agriculture or state auditor, Des Moines Register editorial page editor Linda Fandel confirmed to me this week. Fandel told me the newspaper has been inconsistent about endorsing candidates for those offices in the past. She said limited staff time and resources lay behind the decision not to endorse this year. The Register did endorse candidates in the races for governor, U.S. Senate and all five U.S. House seats, as well as the Iowa Supreme Court retention vote, which the editors called the most important election in the state this year.

I understand limits on resources. Compared to previous election cycles, the Register’s newsroom staff is smaller, and its editorial pages contain less content. However, a newspaper that claims to have a statewide profile shouldn’t punt on elections offering such significant contrasts to voters. More thoughts on these campaigns are after the jump.

In 2006, the Register endorsed candidates in the secretary of state and agriculture races, where incumbents were not running for re-election. Editors supported Democrat Michael Mauro for secretary of state, saying he “has the superior breadth of experience and passion for the job,” having served “competently, with openness and high ethical standards” as Polk County auditor for more than 20 years. They saw Republican Mary Ann Hanusa as “credible” but with “too-brief exposure to the issues” handled by the Secretary of State’s Office. The contrast is sharper this year, as Mauro has an impressive record of management while his opponent doesn’t know basic facts about how Iowa voter rolls are maintained. It’s telling that a bunch of Republican county auditors are backing Mauro.

The Register’s editors favored Republican Bill Northey for secretary of agriculture in 2006. Although they viewed both Northey and Denise O’Brien as “intelligent, highly accomplished leaders who each could make outstanding contributions to the office,” they gave the edge to Northey because of his experience with “the growing role of Iowa agriculture in producing renewable energy.” This year Francis Thicke has offered a comprehensive plan for producing more renewable energy on Iowa farms and growing farmers’ incomes while reducing their reliance on fossil fuels, yet the Register’s editorial board refused Thicke’s requests for a meeting. (Fandel told me that was because they had already decided not to endorse anyone in the race.) Adding insult to injury, the Register’s editors recently declared Thicke was wrong to say state inspectors should do more to ensure egg producers are following safety rules. They didn’t even hear him out on his reading of the Iowa Code.

Regarding the attorney general’s race, the Register’s editorial board did criticize Brenna Findley for making a legal challenge to health care reform a centerpiece of her campaign. The Register described her planned lawsuit as “redundant, frivolous” and a “political stunt.” Given the massive resources Republicans and outside groups are putting into this campaign, and the contrasts between Findley’s and Miller’s backgrounds and philosophies, I would have expected the Register to weigh in.

The state auditor and treasurer races both feature candidates who have exaggerated Iowa’s fiscal difficulties in order to boost Republican political prospects. On September 12, the Register’s editors chided Terry Branstad for not telling “the whole story” about Iowa’s economy and fiscal condition. Apparently they’re content to give State Auditor David Vaudt a pass for a year’s worth of “sky is falling” warnings. Many of Vaudt’s claims have been featured in Branstad television commercials.

Any comments about newspaper endorsements or statewide Iowa races are welcome in this thread.

About the Author(s)


  • Reverse priorities

    The Register should reverse its priorities.  Voters will be more interested in their endorsements of state officers than their endorsements of well known Congressmen.  No one is depending on that!  Besides, most readers can’t vote for most Congressman.

  • Gutless wonders.

    If the rest of us can make up our minds who to vote for and articulate some kind of rationale, surely the DMR can cobble together a coherent thought.  Or not.

    How could you tout renewable energy in one campaign season then ignore the candidate who is a walking graduate seminar on renewable energy two years later, i.e., Francis Thicke?

    You can’t decide whether to endorse a Harvard-trained AG who has done a good job for years, and has a national reputation for being one of the best, or a Steve King staffer who has never even practiced law?  Hello?  What planet was that decision made on?

    Mauro is what you want in a Secretary of State–even-handed, ethical, smart.  Why does he not deserve to be rehired?  Why does Vaudt, who is none of those things, deserve to be considered?

    They should be embarrassed, but they are not, apparently.  Shame on them.  They just make themselves more irrelevant with decisions like this, and hasten the day when they disappear altogether.  The DMR of old would never have let this happen.