UPDATED: Austin newspaper (still) not endorsing candidates in November elections
At the start of the week before this November’s elections, Gerald Daugherty, a Republican seeking re-election to the Travis County commissioners court, listed the endorsement of the Austin American-Statesman on his campaign website.
In the same vein, an October mailer from the Austin Board of Realtors PAC said Daugherty was endorsed by the newspaper. A reader and the campaign of David Holmes, the Democrat facing Daugherty for the Precinct 3 post, asked us to check the endorsement claim, which we rated False.
How we knew all this: The newspaper, also home to PolitiFact Texas, made no general-election candidate endorsements after editors announced in May its editorial board would no longer endorse candidates.
Still, we found, Daugherty wasn’t alone among candidates listing an American-Statesman endorsement.
Two other Austin-area candidates, both Democrats, similarly incorrectly were saying on campaign sites that she or he was endorsed by the newspaper, likely hearkening to the newspaper’s pre-primary endorsements. All told before the primaries, the newspaper endorsed 18 candidates for state or local office.
The Democrats listing the newspaper’s endorsement as of November:
--Jeff Travillion, who hopes to represent Precinct 1 on the Travis County commissioners court;
Our attempts to reach each of the Democrats’ campaigns didn’t draw immediate replies.
Here’s what the newspaper said in a May 21, 2016, article describing changes in the paper's opinion pages: "Perhaps the most significant philosophical change as we adjust resources is that we will no longer endorse political candidates, although we will weigh in as necessary on ballot measures and other issues."
That article, by the American-Statesman's editor, Debbie Hiott, and Viewpoints editor, Tara Trower Doolittle, went on: "The sheer number of candidates in a metropolitan area this size and the number of editorial writers we have makes it challenging to add to the contours of the electoral debate. In the last" Austin City Council "cycle, our board met with more than 120 political candidates. In the most recent primary season, we held more than two dozen meetings and we declined to endorse in a number of statewide and county races in our readership area. We also have been increasingly forced to not endorse in races where candidates have chosen to skip the interview process altogether."
After we reached Daugherty about his campaign site listing the newspaper’s endorsement, he pointed out the paper earlier backed him for his party’s nomination. In urging voters to favor Daugherty over Jason Nassour, the editorial board said this February: "Republicans should stick with the incumbent." The board also called Daugherty "an important compass for the commissioners court on matters of fiscal responsibility" who "has shown an ability to prod his predictably blue colleagues to the right despite his minority status."
Daugherty also conceded the paper didn’t endorse candidates for the general election. And after our interview, he said he’d amend his website to show the American-Statesman had only endorsed him before his party’s primary--which he did, we confirmed.
We asked Hiott generally about anyone saying a candidate has the newspaper’s November endorsement.
"Every candidate knows that an endorsement is made within the context of a particular race and particular opponents," Hiott said by email. "To then present it as an endorsement in another race is disingenuous at best."
We also sought comment from a leader of the Texas Press Association, which represents nearly 450 daily and weekly newspapers. Michael Hodges, the association’s executive director, said candidates should know a primary endorsement has a limited life span. "Just because they endorse a candidate for the primary, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to endorse the candidate again in the general election," Hodges said. That fact, he said, "has to be understood by everybody."
CORRECTION, 9:50 a.m., Nov. 3, 2016: This story has been amended to remove former U.S. House aspirant Scot Gallaher from our list of Democrats still listing American-Statesman endorsements online, a correction that reduces the number of party nominees listing the newspaper's endorsements to three. Gallaher won the paper's backing before the 2016 primary; he didn't win the Congressional District 10 nomination.