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I don’t remember when the Vail Daily first started endorsing political candidates. I know they weren’t doing it when I started there as sports editor in June of 1991.
In fact, the owner of the newspaper then, local restaurateur Jim Pavelich, didn’t even allow local opinion columns – just nationally syndicated writers like Cal Thomas who, incredibly, at least as recently as August, is still alive and kicking in the pages of the Vail Daily (and they say Joe Biden should retire).
The competing weekly in 1991and Vail’s first newspaper in 1965 – the venerable and now defunct Vail Trail (bought and mothballed by the Vail Daily) – had some great local columnists such as Allen Best and Tara Flanagan. For a fascinating (to me anyway) oral history of the Vail Trail, go the Vail Public Library website.
Then an editor and reporter named Greg Kail started writing a column for the Vail Daily called Kail’s Vail … and the rest was history. I even tried my hand at a few sports columns that got me into hot water with an evangelical high school football coach back in the day. The Vail Daily started breaking out of its opinion shell.
But it wasn’t until I jumped ship to the Vail Trail in 1998, went all in on investigative news, and helped start a full-blown newspaper war with our daily edition, the Daily Trail, that the Vail Daily and its new owners, Reno-based Swift, were forced to fight back with local opinions – bringing in the more conservative takes of Don Rogers.
Yes, that Don Rogers. The same guy who just parachuted into Aspen to clean up the firestorm started there by the new owners of Aspen Times, Vail Daily and several other Colorado ski-town newspapers – conservative, West Virginia-based Ogden Newspapers.
Maybe it was Rogers who started doing endorsements when he was at the helm of the Vail Daily back in the early aughts; I don’t really remember. But now those endorsements are no more … and I have it from very good sources that the order came down from on high, where the bosses at Ogden apparently don’t like to take sides (unless they’re sued by a powerful Soviet-born landowner) or they can quietly do it via biased search results on their websites. Of course, in their home state of West Virginia, subversion is unnecessary because of the deep-red nature of the place. They can just blatantly back the GOP.
Rogers, meanwhile, is perpetuating a national-media myth that Republican Colorado U.S. Senate candidate Joe O’Dea is a moderate.
Writing that O’Dea sides more with “Roe v. Wade than the current Supreme Court” ignores the fact that O’Dea has previously said he voted twice for former President Donald Trump, would vote for him again if he ran in 2024 (and has since flipflopped), and that he supported all three of Trump’s Supreme Court picks who ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade. Not to mention O’Dea voted for a 2020 Colorado ballot measure, Proposition 115, that would have banned abortions after 22 weeks.
That kind of whitewashing by Rogers and the once-proud Aspen Times may not be an outright endorsement, but it does earn you prominent placement in a pro-O’Dea campaign mailer. Rogers, though, clearly likes to shit-disturb on both sides of the aisle by, for instance, using climate and anti-war activist, former Green Party candidate and former Eagle County Commissioner Arn Menconi as a climate correspondent.
And the Vail Daily’s top trending web story Sunday was on the controversial removal of a pride flag from the Mountain Recreation facility in Gypsum. One wonders if Ogden bosses were happy to see that front-page story last week.
Now you can argue whether political endorsements by newspapers have much value these days, especially since so many mostly right-leaning politicians have worked so hard the last few years to undermine public trust in newspapers.
But it’s worth noting that the Vail Daily editorial board took the time to sit down with candidates just last year, delve into all the critical local issues, and then make reasoned choices based on how those candidates answered and handled themselves. That, in and of itself, seems like a valuable process for newspapers to engage in, and the Vail Daily did sponsor and host multiple candidate forums this election cycle.
I’ll also note that in the most controversial and heated campaign last year – the Eagle County School Board races pitting two very ideologically divided voting blocs – the Vail Daily took a pass and ran a column from yours truly. All of the candidates in the right-wing camp lost – most by wide margins.
That Vail Daily non-endorsement aside, I don’t think my column made much difference. Flawed candidates are flawed candidates, and Eagle County voters are smart enough to see through thinly veiled religious rhetoric permeating our public schools. Nor do I think the paper’s endorsements will be missed all that much this election.
What’s more troubling to me than the endorsements going away, at least for now, is the reasoning behind the move. For some perspective on that, here’s an excerpt from the excellent Corey Hutchins “Inside the News in Colorado” newsletter (please subscribe):
“Earlier this month, this newsletter reported how the Alden Global Capital hedge fund newspaper chain’s [Denver Post] decision to ban statewide endorsements will affect Colorado. Since that move, The Great Newspaper Endorsement Debate has been the rage in media circles. Some news organizations are making these decisions out of a recognition that readers have a hard time telling the difference between news and opinion. Others have been paring back their opinion content in general. In Colorado, one ski-town newspaper has decided to stop endorsing candidates for a reason I hadn’t yet seen. From Editor Nate Peterson in Vail Daily: ‘We will not be endorsing candidates for this year’s election, as we have in years past. I wish that wasn’t the case, but in a time of intense partisanship and political extremism, including a significant rise in threats of political violence, it’s become a no-win proposition for a nonpartisan news organization to make endorsements. We may revisit that policy in the future. As of now, we are still doing endorsements of ballot issues.’ The decision also comes months after Vail Daily switched ownership. The paper was part of a string of newsrooms sold from Nevada-based Swift Communications to Ogden Newspapers of West Virginia. Responses to the decision ran the gamut. ‘What a rise of authoritarianism looks like in slow motion, fear of violence promotes preventative self-censorship,’ wrote one commenter. ‘Yeah,’ wrote another, ‘look at all those *Democratic* political threats.’ Elsewhere in Colorado, a TV anchor in Colorado Springs noticed his local newspaper, The Gazette, endorsed ‘16 candidates in Colorado races…. all 16 are Republicans.’ He wondered: ‘Does the endorsement carry any weight at that point? Save people a click and just tell them to check the box with the (R) next to it.’”
I wrote for the Colorado Springs Gazette as recently as 2020 but won’t pitch them anything again until they change course on their editorial page. The only major Colorado newspaper to endorse U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert in the district I lived in until recent redistricting, the Gazette’s opinion page backs her full-frontal attack on our democratic institutions, which, by default, includes a free, independent press.
As for Peterson’s position on political violence ending the paper’s candidate endorsements, it’s a win for right-wing extremists terrorizing everyone from school officials to public health workers to election volunteers to newspaper reporters.
Since the Vail Daily won’t do it, here are my picks in the Nov. 8 midterm election, and yeah, if you want to save time, just check the D box on your ballot with the exception of one R locally. That’s right, stop the presses, I voted for a Republican (you’ll have to read on to find out who).
I fully and transparently admit to being “left-leaning,” but I would argue my views (mitigating climate change, protecting democracy, a woman’s right to choose, sensible gun regulations) used to be moderate positions and that those on the right are the ones who are becoming increasingly extreme and intolerant. Regardless, here are my picks:
Colorado U.S. Senate
Critical that Democrats maintain control of at least the Senate in order to push back against a radicalized right-wing U.S. Supreme Court with lower-court judge selections. U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet over O’Dea (for previously stated reasons as well as O’Dea’s opposition to Inflation Reduction Act and its climate and healthcare spending and deficit reduction measures, his failure to robustly reject the false claims of 2020 election deniers and Jan. 6 insurrectionists, and his obvious rejection of a woman’s right to full autonomy over her own body).
Gov. Jared Polis over Heidi Ganahl. Polis has my vote for his positions on abortion rights, the environment, protecting democracy and so much more. He has local connections and has been a relentless defender of our public lands. Ganahl is not a serious candidate, and, if anything, has proven she shouldn’t even be a CU Regent. She needs to go away … and take her furries nonsense with her.
Colorado 3rd Congressional District (U.S. House)
Most of Eagle County will vote for either Joe Neguse or Marshall Dawson in the 2nd Congressional District (my pick is Neguse), but that is not a competitive contest, and Dawson’s campaign never responded to RealVail.com questions. In CD3, Adam Frisch over Boebert for her actions on Jan. 6, 2021 and beyond, and her failure to vote for any beneficial legislation passed to help Western Slope residents combat climate change, mitigate wildfires, improve healthcare, build infrastructure, protect water, boost broadband or support the needs of veterans (to name just a few). Her district now includes just a corner of Eagle County, but if a newspaper can’t back Boebert’s truly (not faux O’Dea) moderate opponent, it really should get out of the endorsement game.
State Senate District 8
Dylan Roberts over Matt Solomon for Roberts’ relentless battle to bring down healthcare and housing costs, protect our environment and uphold the rule of law as a former prosecutor. Solomon has failed to fully endorse the results of the 2020 presidential election, entertained the idea of alternate electors, and has spent his campaign explaining comments in books and on conservative podcasts that show disdain for a woman’s right to choose and the role of government in stabilizing healthcare and attempting to mitigate against the worst impacts of climate change.
State House District 26
Meghan Lukens over Savannah Wolfson for many of the same reasons as in the SD8 race. A Steamboat newcomer following in Roberts’ footsteps, Lukens checks all the right boxes for me on climate change, democracy, healthcare and a woman’s right to choose. Also a newcomer, Oak Creek’s Wolfson has said some reprehensible things about abortion rights on far-right social media.
Colorado Attorney General
Contrary to the wasteful and “idiotic” ad campaign of a Weld County Republican rancher who cashed in bigtime on oil and gas drilling, Phil Weiser over John Kellner for Weiser’s relentless support of the rule of law, a woman’s right to choose, election integrity and voting rights.
Colorado Secretary of State
Jena Griswold over Pam Anderson. With democracy in decline and so many threats to our voting infrastructure, why change course and elect a Republican who has been a little too cozy with the cast of election deniers in her own party? Griswold ran the gold-standard of elections in 2020, and she should be entrusted to do so again in 2024.
Eagle County Commissioner
Jeanne McQueeney over Brian Brandl. The commissioners have started to make real progress on dealing with our critical housing crisis, as well as our lack of daycare and early childhood education opportunities. They’ve also led on regional transportation. I support McQueeney for another term, and both the regional transportation authority ballot question and the 1A lodging tax for both housing and daycare.
Eagle County Sheriff
James van Beek over Paul Agneberg. I’m an Air Force brat son of a career USAF lawyer who wound up a Judge Advocate General and (post retirement) a Grand County judge and then traveling senior judge for the state of Colorado. Yeah, I was a wild child of the 80s and kind of a knucklehead my early adult years in various ski towns, but I’ve grown to become kind of a rule of law guy, especially when it comes to our political system and everyone’s right to vote freely and fairly. As such, I call in when I get a jury summons, I pay my taxes, and I pay up if I get a traffic ticket (because I’ve never been cited when I wasn’t actually violating traffic laws). So Agneberg’s antics are disqualifying, and while I did not appreciate how van Beek handled the passage of Colorado’s red flag law, I generally think he runs a responsive and above-board operation focused on promoting public safety. So I voted for the one Republican elected to countywide office locally in recent years (and the Democrats didn’t put forth a viable alternative).