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Some choice words on our endorsements RICHARD L. CONNOR OPINION

The most entertaining phone call I received Friday regarding our newspaper’s endorsement of Don Sherwood for re-election to Congress required a stretch of the imagination to connect the dots.

A caller said the Sherwood endorsement was pure lunacy and must have been based on some Texas-type of thinking I brought to the Wyoming Valley. I’ve lived in that state for the past 20 years since leaving as publisher here.

“Why don’t you just go back,” he suggested.

But after that warm welcome he said I must be connected to some Southern evangelical sect filled with hypocrites who preach holiness and Godliness in public but practice homosexuality in private.

Told you that connecting the dots required some thinking, convoluted or otherwise.

First, let’s get this straight. I am only guilty of living in Texas for 20 years.

Neither Southern evangelical Bible thumping nor closet homosexuality entered into our editorial board’s decision to endorse Sherwood over challenger Chris Carney. Well, then, what did?

Grasp of the issues, both local and national, delivered the Times Leader endorsement to Sherwood. His interview was filled with an impressive command of facts and figures and with a commitment to his district and the people back home. He spoke like a local leader, but one with a national and world perspective. That’s something that Carney lacked.

My guess is that our editorial board was as surprised as some readers at our vote and the endorsement. The Times Leader has been at the forefront of news reporting on Sherwood’s extramarital affair and the subsequent settlement of a lawsuit brought on by his former girlfriend.

Had the seven members of the board voted beforehand, I suspect the endorsement would have swung the other way but it did not. The reason is simple. Sherwood was better prepared to talk issues and displayed more intellectual depth on the variety of subjects we covered during the interview.

And the only piece of truth -- not gossip or innuendo -- that we have about Sherwood and this matter is that he had an affair. We also know police responded to a phone call at Sherwood’s apartment. No criminal charges were ever filed.

If some religious and moral criteria had been used by our board we might have agreed that most of organized religion preaches forgiveness of sins. That being said, we concentrated on political issues and world affairs.

Sherwood was convincing with his arguments that he believes the world, and particularly our nation, is a safer place because of our intervention in Iraq.

Two races that affect our area have drawn the most attention in this election. Sherwood-Carney in one and the other is Sen. Rick Santorum under challenge from Bob Casey. They are the most controversial.

We have also endorsed Santorum whose re-election bid has been showcased, rightly or wrongly, as a referendum on the Bush administration in general and on the war in particular.

Once again, Sen. Santorum was better informed, more articulate, and showed both the specific knowledge and proven commitment we want in our state’s leadership in Washington. He also is more articulate than anyone – anyone -- from Washington about what he sees as the threat to this nation from Islamic fascists. He is particularly prophetic -- darkly so -- in my opinion about threats posed by countries such as Iran, Venezuela and North Korea.

In the last week, two columnists have pointed out what they believe the tragedy will be if Santorum is not re-elected. Peggy Noonan, former President Ronald Reagan’s speech writer, and David Brooks at the New York Times wrote eloquently about Santorum’s dedication to pushing legislation and action on behalf of the poor and the underprivileged.

“For there has been at least one constant in Washington over the last 12 years: Almost every time a serious piece of antipoverty legislation surfaces in Congress, Rick Santorum is there playing a leadership role,” wrote Brooks.

He then went on to show how Santorum, often thought of as a hardliner Republican always voting with the Bush administration, has often reached across the aisle to his Democrat counterparts to push for help for those without a voice and without money and, therefore, political power and clout.

“…he has pushed through a stream of legislation to help the underprivileged, often with Democratic partners. With Dick Durbin and Joe Biden, Santorum has sponsored a series of laws to fight global AIDS and offer third-world debt relief. With Chuck Schumer and Harold Ford, he has pushed to offer savings accounts to children from low-income families. With John Kerry, he has proposed homeownership tax credits. With Chris Dodd, he backed legislation authorizing $860 million for autism research. With Joe Lieberman, he pushed legislation to reward savings by low-income families.”

Santorum was outspoken on his differences with President Bush on several subjects. He is a supporter of the war effort, but believes the president does not articulate our policy well, and says he has told the president that to his face. Santorum said the president has done an abysmal job of explaining the problem of and confronting Iran.

But, he said he supports the administration’s economic policies and pointed to what he termed low indices which he says show growth and strength in the country’s financial health. He said our budget deficit of $247 billion represents 2 percent of the Gross Domestic Product and in the past the figure has been 2.5 percent. He noted that the national unemployment rate of 4.4 percent is also a significant positive sign.

Last week columnist George Will said the rate is 4.6 percent and pointed out that it is “lower than the average for 1990s (5.8)-lower, in fact, than the average for the last 40 years (6.0).”

Both Santorum and Sherwood offer seniority which is important to a congressional district and to the state and programs we need for our own backyards.

Wars divide nations. This we all know. It is far too easy for editorial writers and columnists to talk about the need to prevail in the Mideast when we do not have a loved one serving there, but I personally believe those who serve are defending this nation more than trying to spread democracy around the world.

The decisions of our editorial board were thoughtful and non-partisan. We have endorsed five Democrats and five Republicans. Some who phoned me last Friday said a newspaper has “no right” to endorse. It is a subject I have deliberated myself and debated with others for many years.

I believe we should endorse. We have the opportunity in our board meetings to see the candidates face to face, a chance to get them “off message,” an opportunity to measure them eyeball to eyeball. I believe we represent the public in this process. I also believe that on Election Day an informed public votes its own conscience and pays only passing attention to our endorsements.

But, I take pride that we have collectively spoken our mind and exercised our First Amendment rights which I believe symbolize the same rights of all Americans. And, all attempts at humor aside, I appreciate those who phoned me and left messages explaining their views which differ from those of the majority of the editorial board.

After all, it’s what elections are all about.

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