Two tales on C-J Endorsements

Amy Shir had a friend who warned her that the Courier-Journal’s endorsement would be tough to get in her District 48 state House campaign, because her Republican opponent, Bob DeWeese, is friendly with the paper’s editorial board. She said she was told Jill Johnson Keeney, a member of the board, was close to DeWeese. Nonetheless, she did her homework and was well-prepared for her endorsement interview.

When she showed up and got off the elevator with DeWeese, she said CJ editorial director David Hawpe greeted DeWeese with great deference, actually bowing in a joking manner. The C-J endorsement went to DeWeese, but was written in a way that Shir thought was peculiar, especially this line: “On policy grounds, Mr. Shir would be our choice.” The C-J reasons that voters should choose DeWeese, in part because of the valuable contributions he makes to his party. That’s right, to his party.  I’m not sure that endorsement is based on solid reasoning, andthe C-J piece seems to be questioning its own choice.

On the other hand, sometimes the appearance of conflict among C-J editorial board members doesn’t mean there’s anything untoward going on. In a school board race, Pat O’Leary is running for re-election against Debbie Wesslund. O’Leary sent me a copy of an invitation to a Wesslund fund-raiser that was held at the home of a friend, Carolyn Gatz, who happens to be a former editorial board member and is married to Ed Bennett, who is there now. In fact, Bennett was involved in O’Leary’s endorsement interview.

But like other power couples in politics, I’m convinced that Gatz (who retains her name profesionally) and Bennett share many things, but keep their professional affairs separate. Gatz told me that her husband wasn’t home the night of the fund-raiser, and that beside the event raised just a few hundred bucks.

Now, if this situation occurred in a more high-profile race, it would have perhaps been a big story. But with the stakes so low, I believe Gatz when she says she was merely helping a close friend with her campaign, independent of her husband.

Of course, Wesslund got the C-J endorsement, but probably deserved it. O’Leary’s outspoken criticism of the school system’s policies and the actions of the superintendent have made him a divisive force on the board. I think the C-J’s decision was based on the candidate’s views and actions, and not on any influence resulting from Wesslund’s friendship.

The Courier has seen fit to support Democratic candidates Mike Weaver, Baron Hill, Ken Lucas and John Yarmuth in the area’s most contentious and talked-about Congressional races, remaining true to its heritage.  The choice of Yarmuth, however, was in doubt among insiders until it was released Sunday, especially since it backed Northup in 2004 and because of Yarmuth’s past rivalry with the C-J as a businessman and columnist. Read my column later this week in LEO to learn how the C-J has curiously been less than enthusiastic about its support of Yarmuth in its news coverage.