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St. Petersburg Times editorial board riles judicial candidates by grouping endorsement interviews

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It must be really, really hard working as an editorial writer for the St. Petersburg Times.  Imagine the difficult of having to collaborate with five or six other people (none of whom are African-American, by the way, for those of you keeping score at home.  The Times makes such a big deal about diversity, yet it’s own editorial board is lily white now that Bill Maxwell has retired) to pen not just one, but two, sometimes three editorials.  Three editorials!  That’s like, I don’t know, two thousand words.  Writing that much must take, and I’m ball-parking here, at least two-and-a-half hours.

I really don’t know how Tim Nickens and Joni James do it.

Fortunately for Nickens and Co., they won’t be burdened this summer with individually interviewing judicial candidates.  According to a letter sent to each candidate for the Sixth Judicial Circuit, the St. Petersburg Times editorial board has decided to interview judicial candidates en masse.

“Because of the tight time constraints under which we are all operating, and the unique limits on judicial campaigns, we will conduct group interview sessions with candidates for the Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court bench.”

Thank goodness Nickens has decided to conduct group interviews of the judicial candidates.  I don’t know how we could have expected him to interview all 15 or so candidates running for the bench.  At twenty minutes a piece, that many interviews would have taken the better part of a morning and you wouldn’t want them.  Who you recommend for judge isn’t that important, is it?  It’s not like these guys make life-or-death decisions.  Oh wait, that’s exactly what they do.

And, fortunately or unfortunately, the Times‘ endorsement, err, endorsement plays a considerable role in which candidates win these down-ballot races.  Judicial candidates raise little money and draw little interest, so voters especially rely on the Times for guidance on who should serve as judge.

The Times‘ decision to interview judicial candidates as a group is not sitting well with the judicial candidates I spoke with, several of whom were campaigning yesterday at the Tiger Bay luncheon.  Although the Times says it will do its best not to schedule two competing candidates at the same group interview, the possibility of one or two candidates dominating a group interview, could be a disadvantaged to a more reserved, but thoughtful judicial candidate.

As one judicial candidate explained it to me, “It’s like the Rays playing in the AL East against the Yankees and the Red Sox.  Playing in any other division, the Rays would make the playoffs probably every year.  The same goes for these interviews, now I’m not just competing against my opponent, I have to compete with four or five other judicial candidates that have no bearing on my race.”

Of course, none of the candidates I spoke with are ready to go on the record against the Times lest they jeopardize their chances of earning the newspaper’s endorsement.


Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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