We have an unusual situation at The Lincoln County News this year, as one of our columnists is running for public office.
“Truckin’ in America” columnist Larry Sidelinger is a candidate for selectman in Damariscotta, one of five for a single seat. Voters will choose between them in a special election Nov. 7.
A town official has raised the concern that Larry’s weekly column will give him an unfair advantage in the race. The official suggested that Larry should avoid the topic of town politics in his next few columns before the election.
We gave this some consideration. We certainly do not wish to provide an unfair or unethical boost to one candidate.
Certainly it would be inappropriate for the editor to run for public office and use this space as a campaign tool. We do not endorse candidates, even ourselves.
Likewise, it would be inappropriate for a reporter to run for public office and report on their own race, because it would present an obvious conflict of interest.
This is not to say an editor or reporter or other newspaper employee could never run for public office, but at a minimum, they would need to recuse themselves from any oversight or participation in our coverage or analysis of the race or of issues relevant to the office.
A columnist is different.
First, like all our columnists, Larry is a volunteer. He is not an employee of the company.
Second, Larry’s column represents Larry alone. Sometimes we agree with Larry and sometimes we could not disagree more. But a diversity of opinions is important to a strong opinion section.
Third, Larry’s column is about Larry and his interests and his work and his reflections on current events, local and otherwise. Now that he is taking the significant step of transitioning from armchair quarterback to candidate, it is natural that he would write about it.
Moreover, we think it adds to the newspaper. His column is providing an interesting firsthand perspective on running for local office.
Finally, we don’t think the column will give Larry an advantage, unfair or otherwise.
Most people in Damariscotta probably know or know of Larry and have a rough idea of where he stands on the issues. He is certainly not shy about his opinions.
The race presents five candidates who offer different experience, different styles, and different approaches to the major issues before the town.
An intelligent voter will consider these factors and vote for the candidate who most closely aligns with their views.
Maybe there are voters out there who will vote for the guy whose name was in the newspaper the most times, but that would be a problem with the voters, not the newspaper.
In the interest of fairness, we want to send a message to the other four candidates: all of you are welcome to write letters to the editor every week between now and the election (three weeks). As long as these letters meet a reasonable standard of civility and fairness, we will publish them. You may also wish to have your supporters write letters of endorsement. We will publish those as well.
As always, the last week before the election, we will not publish any letter (or “Truckin’ in America” column) that another candidate might wish to respond to, as there will no longer be an opportunity to respond prior to the election. So get the heavy issues out of the way first.
This is no different than we would treat letters from candidates and their supporters in any circumstances, but we want to stress the point that our opinion pages are not a platform accessible only to a few. They are accessible to all.
May the best candidate win!