The Kansas City Star editorial board bases its endorsements on a variety of factors, though one is indispensable: in-person meetings with candidates. When readers look through our list of recommendations, they can be sure we’ve had the opportunity to pose direct questions to the candidates on the ballot.
This cycle, we did not endorse Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley for U.S. Senate, Saundra McDowell for Missouri auditor, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach for governor, Steve Watkins for Kansas’ 2nd District U.S. House seat or Kansas state Rep. Scott Schwab for secretary of state.
That’s not because we didn’t like what these Republicans had to say. It’s because we never got the chance to hear it.
All declined repeated invitations to make their case to us. Frustratingly, multiple candidates played coy with promises to schedule an interview till, golly, the clock ran out.
The Star’s editorial board didn’t get to learn more about their ideas and their views on public policy, which means that we couldn’t relay that information to you, the reader. And we could not confidently recommend these candidates without answers to some determinative questions.
We aren’t readers of minds (nor of campaign strategists’ playbooks), but it’s hardly a secret that demonstrative disdain for the “mainstream media” has become a core conservative value.
Last year, Missouri’s then-Gov. Eric Greitens moderated the “Disrupting the Mainstream Media” panel at the Republican Governors Association meeting. It promised a discussion of strategies for GOP officials to get their messages out through social media and friendly, overtly conservative news outlets.
Greitens hewed to that blueprint closely throughout his short tenure in office. And Donald Trump has made lambasting journalists a central feature of his presidency.
Now, some local Republicans are following his lead. That’s their choice. But it’s voters who lose out when candidates are unwilling to leave the safe confines of their own campaign events and answer questions that move beyond party-line talking points.
The editorial board has invited Republican candidates and officials to weigh in on pertinent issues, and we’ve published guest columns from Hawley, Kobach, Schwab and fellow Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder on our pages. The Star also endorsed Hawley in the Republican primary after he impressed us in a sit-down interview.
Yoder deserves particular praise for his willingness to engage. Our pick of his challenger Sharice Davids for Kansas’ 3rd District was by far the toughest decision we made in any race this year, largely because of Yoder’s strong showing in our conference room.
The GOP radio silence from other candidates is also a strategic blunder. Fox News and other like-minded media outlets have found their audience, sure — and it’s a lucrative one. Republicans reach those folks easily with carefully curated social media posts and on-screen appearances.
But they are excluding voters who don’t already subscribe to their narrowcasts. If only they’d talk to the cross section of Kansas Citians who follow The Star and other news outlets that try (and, sure, sometimes fail) to play it down the middle, they might just find a good number of voters would be open to a message about the perils of legislation that becomes too intrusive. About onerous tax rates (a concern we often share). About the rights of religious Americans to participate fully in government (again, an issue not foreign to us).
Bottom line: This is hardly about our feelings getting hurt. It’s about public policy. If office-seekers won’t show up and answer questions, it’s a tell that they don’t think their ideas will stand up to scrutiny. What does it say if they will talk only to their fans?