A FAVORITE criticism of our editorial board, for much longer than the 16 years that I’ve been a member, has been that our endorsement is the kiss of death. So now that the 2014 election is past, I thought it would be worthwhile to review our win-loss record.
This year it was 9-2, which most people would be proud to have on any sort of scorecard. It might be a little better than usual, but it’s fairly typical of our record.
I would love to have been 11-0, but going into last Tuesday, I was worried that we could easily end up 8-3. That still would have been an extremely respectable record, but it also would have been far, far more than 50 percent more disappointing, because that third contest that seemed in doubt could have the greatest positive long-term consequences of anything that happened last week.
I’m talking about the constitutional amendment to let future governors select the adjutant general, from among candidates who meet military requirements that are now written into state law. South Carolina was the last government in the free world where the commander of the military was chosen by plebiscite, and this was the poster child for change; if Constitutional Amendment 2 had been defeated, it would have doomed any chance of switching to gubernatorial appointment of the directors of the state Agriculture Department and Education Department and of abolishing the secretary of state’s office and subsuming its duties into other state agencies.
The outcome shouldn’t have been in doubt, with the backing of Gov. Nikki Haley and her challenger, Sen. Vincent Sheheen, of the chairmen of the state Republican and Democratic parties and of the person with the biggest reason to support the status quo: Adjutant General Bob Livingston.
But a month out from the election, I got a call from a political operative warning that the question was losing badly when it was asked on a political poll for candidates. So even though the political party officials made their joint support public, and the Republican Party added the “vote yes on 2” message to its campaign materials, and Gov. Haley and Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill held a news conference to support the change, it was touch and go. In the end, the amendment passed 56 percent to 44 percent — a landslide by any definition.
The other races were not even close — or surprising.
The two candidates we endorsed who ended up on the losing side were Sen. Vincent Sheheen, who lost his rematch in a landslide to Gov. Nikki Haley, and Joe McCulloch, who lost his own rematch to state Rep. Kirkman Finlay. I’m disappointed by Sen. Sheheen’s loss, but I don’t have the concerns I did four years ago, because Gov. Haley has not been the disaster I had feared, and in fact has done some very good things. Ditto Mr. Finlay, who has proven to be a more responsible representative than I expected.
The other candidates we endorsed were shoo-ins because of their political party — or at least because of the decisions that voters made in the Republican primary. I’m not at all certain that Republicans would have been so successful if U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham had lost his hotly contested primary campaign, or if Molly Spearman had not won the hotly contested primary for superintendent of education, or Henry McMaster the hotly contested nomination for lieutenant governor. But all three did, and all three won the general election a week ago, and I’m excited about having all three of them in office.
Rounding out the list of candidates for whom our endorsement was not the kiss of death are Attorney General Alan Wilson, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott and state Reps. Todd Atwater, Beth Bernstein and Rick Quinn.
The other thing critics like to claim about our endorsements is that we got them “wrong” when our candidates lose. That would be true if we were making predictions. We’re not.
If we were, we’d simply endorse all the Republicans for statewide office, and in district elections, we’d endorse the candidate from the party that our legislators intended to win that district when they gerrymandered the lines for partisan purposes.
Instead, we spend hours and hours interviewing candidates and reviewing their records and their campaigns and making and comparing lists of pluses and minuses for each one. After going through that process, we are quite confident that we got every one of our endorsements right — just like I’m sure all of the people who voted last week are quite confident that they got their choices right.
We make endorsements because it’s our job to use the access and the resources we have to provide informed opinion on the important decisions facing our state and community — from what ethics requirements to impose on elected officials to state tax policy, from how local governments spend their slush funds to the power struggles within those governments. It would be irresponsible for us to provide that perspective on a state’s worth of choices over which most readers have no direct say, and then be silent on the choices that are theirs to make.
So we write our endorsements the same way we write editorials and columns about the decisions that the election winners will have to make: not by simply saying what outcome we want but by explaining how we came to those decisions, and why we want those outcomes. By doing this, we hope to challenge readers to examine their own conclusions, and make sure they stand up to the sort of exchange of ideas that they very likely wouldn’t otherwise get.
Whether our candidates win or lose isn’t the primary point of our endorsements; it’s to help voters make a more informed choice about how they vote.
But it certainly is nice when they reach the same conclusions that we did.