BY MARTIN PETERSON: 2008 presidential endorsement not taken lightly

GUEST OPINION

June 29, 2014 

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During the Idaho Statesman's early years, there was no editorial page editor and there was no editorial board. Editorials were largely the prerogative of the publisher and whatever the publisher's personal opinion was on the issue of the moment.

No Statesman publisher was a better example of this than Calvin Cobb, owner and publisher from 1889 until 1928. Cobb was a strong Republican and friend to William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt and William E. Borah. When Roosevelt bolted the Republican Party in 1912, the Statesman's editorial banner read, "Teddy, you stink."

In 1928, the year he died, Cobb, responding to an inquiry, indicated that he had not always been correct with his editorial stances. "Sorry to say we supported women's suffrage and direct primary," Cobb noted. "Our best work was in getting telegraph, telephone and railroads into Boise, and finally the main line."

The Statesman's editorials have become much more than simply the opinions of the publisher. The editorial board, made up of the editorial page editor, publisher and community members, meets on a weekly basis to discuss issues, interview individuals and determine the direction of editorials. Often these meetings include considerable debate and less than unanimous decisions. Perhaps the best example of this came in 2008, when the Statesman was considering a presidential endorsement.

The choice was between Democrat Barack Obama, then a U.S. senator from Illinois, and Republican John McCain, a U.S. senator from Arizona. It was not a simple decision, and to help make it, the Statesman brought to the discussion a number of former community members of the editorial board, including me.

There were both Republicans and Democrats. Retirees and individuals still in the workforce. A retired general and a former staff sergeant. A former commissioner of the Big Sky Conference and a former elected Republican state official. It was a group with great diversity and strong feelings about the direction the country had been going and the direction it needed to be going.

There were concerns that Obama was relatively untested, while McCain had extensive experience both in the Senate and in the military. There were concerns that McCain represented a continuation of the Bush-Cheney foreign policies, and the country needed a new direction. There were concerns that Obama was too deliberative, while McCain was decisive. And there were concerns that McCain was sometimes hot-headed, while Obama remained calm. But perhaps the tipping point was concern that if McCain became president and was unable to complete his term, the president would be then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, his running mate. There was a consensus that she was a poor choice for vice president.

In the end there was a split vote, with at least one Democrat supporting McCain and one Republican supporting Obama, with the majority supporting Obama. On Oct. 19, the Statesman ran its endorsement editorial, titled "America needs Obama's steady hand."

Among other things, the editorial said: "This is not an obvious choice for a newspaper in a historically Republican state. Nor was it a unanimous choice. But we have to think about what's best for our nation, which is facing challenging and confusing times that call for even-tempered, clear-minded leadership. When the partisanship of this election finally subsides, Obama is the man who can reach reasoned conclusions, reach across the political divides, and reach out to the common American."

Were we correct with our endorsement? Not according to a majority of Idaho's voters. McCain carried Idaho with 61.5 percent of the vote, to Obama's 36.1 percent. In Ada County, the vote was 52 percent for McCain and 46 percent for Obama. But regardless of the outcome, the process for making an endorsement had worked. It had provided voters with food for thought. And as with all Statesman editorials, it was not something the paper had taken lightly.

Peterson is retired, lives in Boise and currently serves as a community member on the editorial board.

The Idaho Statesman Editorial Board expanded to include community members about 17 years ago. Marty Peterson, a curent member, is sharing this vivid recollection of what it was like when it came time to endorse in the 2008 presidential election.

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