Once upon a time, when I was a working full-time print journalist, I followed a policy that deserves reconsideration in today’s political climate.
The policy was to forgo editorial board interviews of minor-party candidates at election time.
Ross Ramsey’s excellent analysis in the Texas Tribune, which has been posted on PanhandlePBS.org, has given me pause.
He writes that minor-party candidates matter, even when they lose elections.
Which is another way of saying they can pull enough votes from the major-party candidates to swing elections.
Thus, it becomes incumbent on journalists who have to report or comment on these elections to at least consider giving these candidates a fair hearing on the issues that drive their campaigns.
Indeed, sometimes even major-party candidates at times stretch credibility and you wonder, “Why bother?” interviewing them. One fellow stands out. A Democratic candidate for the 19th Congressional District, Sidney Blankenship, came to the Globe-News, where I worked as editorial page editor. He was running against powerful Republican incumbent Rep. Larry Combest. He looked for all the world like a Willie Nelson wannabe, complete with pigtails and denim attire. He was not a serious candidate for such an important public office. He lost that race and hasn’t been seen or heard from since.
Minor-party candidates have to hit it just right to influence elections. They have to compete in true swing districts, where the contest between Republicans and Democrats is so narrow that any siphoning off of votes can swing a race to one side or the other.
But as Ramsey notes: “Most of the time, it doesn’t matter. The current political maps include only a small number of true swing districts that could — given the prevailing political winds — land either party a place in the Legislature.” He means, of course, that Texas’s congressional and legislative districts have been drawn to ensure election of mostly Republican candidates and a smattering of Democrats.
The current political climate, though, seems to be growing a bit more volatile. Republicans are challenging incumbents within their party, giving rise to a sense of unrest within the party that controls government in Texas. It’s unclear whether the GOP incumbents are weakened to an appreciable degree, but the winds of change are beginning to blow.
The minor-party candidates, therefore, might deserve more listeners to whatever message they’re delivering.
Would I change my policy on these minor-party folks if I were in the hot seat yet again? I just might.