There are legitimate and necessary reasons for political parties to have processes for endorsement. And it is appropriate for these procedures to be private and not open to the general public. The ability for committee people to question and analyze candidates in a private setting allows for probing questions that likely would not happen otherwise.
Having said that, it’s time for some change to the process.
Having been a candidate for endorsement for elected office, having both succeeded and failed, having run for office both endorsed and unendorsed; having won and lost; and having been elected as a township supervisor and county commissioner, I have perspective on this issue that leads me to make a recommendation to those committees charged with the responsibility to endorse.
My entry into politics was just before the great Conestoga Valley swimming pool debate. I was recruited to run for that school board. Since I was recruited by committee people, it wasn’t difficult to get an endorsement. Because of the anti-pool campaign of the opposition, I lost.
Two years later, I was one of three candidates for Upper Leacock Township supervisor. The major reason I won was because of an exhaustive door-to-door campaign.
Seeking endorsement for a state legislative seat is a much bigger task than township supervisor because of the larger geographic area. While I lost the prize of endorsement to a worthy opponent, coming as close as I did was a direct result of the exhaustive effort of meeting with every committee person of the district.
A second effort for a state House seat, where there was no endorsement, also resulted in a loss. But in those two efforts, meeting with committee members laid the groundwork for a successful campaign for the endorsement and subsequent election to the office of Lancaster County commissioner.
Committee people react to a candidate for their endorsement in various ways. Many will be neutral, especially in the early stages of the campaign. Some will let you know they are committed to someone else. With them, you make an effort to become their No. 2 choice. And some you will connect with either because of your position on issues, personality or because of mutual friends or associates.
I found that part of the endorsement process very invigorating and rewarding. However, winning the endorsement is dependent on many, many variables — which is what makes it interesting.
There is need for a significant change in how political parties approach the endorsement process. The process in place does have an element of “cronyism.” To minimize this and give the public more confidence in the process, the committee, at the beginning of the endorsement season, should establish, and make public, a list of criteria that candidates for endorsement will be measured by.
The criteria should include general life experience, political experience, personal integrity, issue positions, ability to campaign, loyalty to party, length of residence and other germane criteria.
Committee people have an awesome responsibility to properly vet those who would seek to serve in elective office. Most voters do not pay the kind of attention to races that gives them good insight into the candidates on the ballot. As unfortunate as that is, it is a reality. So therefore the work of the committees is an important part of the process.
R.H. Brenneman, retired president of JG Forney Co. and a former Lancaster County commissioner, lives in Manheim Township.