Star’s recommendations rankle two candidates in District 25 primary

Bill Griffith

Two candidates vying for spots on opposite sides of November’s District 25 state house ballot have at least one thing in common: They were more than a little surprised to see the list of election recommendations put out by the Kansas City Star last week.

The reason, say Republican Bill Griffith and Democrat Scott Gregory, is that they weren’t given the chance to make their case in person to editorial staff tasked with compiling the list. The Star made recommendations in 17 state house primary races in Kansas, including Republican Melissa Rooker and Democrat Megan England in the District 25 race.

“I’m a big boy and don’t have any problem not being picked for the team,” Griffith said. “But I do have a problem with not even being afforded the opportunity to try out.

Scott Gregory

The Star’s editorial page editor Miriam Pepper says the paper employed the same process this go around as it has in elections over the past several years, relying on survey responses submitted by the candidates as well as published accounts of their positions and history. The paper did not interview any of the candidates directly for the recommendations list.

“Most voters don’t get face-to-face interviews with the candidates, and they are still able to make a choice,” Pepper said. “We do a lot of research and talk to people who follow local politics closely. Based on that information as well as the survey responses, we make our recommendations – and we hear from readers that the recommendations are helpful.”

But Griffith and Gregory contend that, had the Star taken the time to speak with them in person, the paper may have come to a different conclusion. Griffith says his positions are similar in many ways to Rooker’s, and that had he been able to talk to the paper in person, they may have been compelled to at least split their recommendation. Moreover, both Griffith and Gregory had received the Star’s blessings when they’d run for city-level offices several years earlier. Gregory remembers sitting down with then-editorial page writer Bob Sigman prior to his election as a Ward II councilman in Roeland Park. The Star recommended Gregory in that race.

“He blew me away with his knowledge of JOCO local politics,” Gregory said. “They endorsed me then, but that was the last time they ever endorsed in those races.”

Indeed, says Pepper, staff cuts over the past decade have significantly curtailed the department’s ability to conduct in-person or phone interviews with candidates.

“We looked at 53 races in Kansas and Missouri,” she said. “We just don’t have the staffing to interview every candidate in every one of those races.”

From Griffith’s perspective, though, he thinks the current process does a disservice to candidates and voters alike.

“If you’re not going to take the time to truly vet the candidates, maybe you shouldn’t be making voting recommendations,” Griffith said.