A Look at Local TV Anchors Who Went Into Politics

From CJR’s The Media Today by Jon Allsop:

YESTERDAY, two days after election day, the Republican primary for governor of Arizona was called for Kari Lake, a longtime local news anchor turned Trumpian media-basher and election denier. In Tuesday’s edition of this newsletter, I wrote about Lake’s path from local TV to politics, and named several other former local anchors who have trodden that path, many of them also Republicans, not least during this current election cycle. There’s nothing inherently wrong with local anchors running for office, I wrote—but local TV can confer great visibility and trust on its journalists, and the potential for that trust to be abused by would-be politicians is clear.

As I sent the newsletter out, I asked readers to get in touch if I’d missed any examples of local anchors going into politics, past or present. You responded in droves, and it turned out that I’d missed loads. Several readers pointed out that a closely-watched US House race in Iowa this cycle will be contested by not one but two former anchors, who used to work together at KCRG in Cedar Rapids. Liz Mathis, now a state senator, is running as a Democrat against Republican Rep. Ashley Hinson, who defeated the then-incumbent Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer in 2020 and has since been tipped for a possible quick promotion to House Republican leadership. Hinson bade an emotional farewell to KCRG in 2015, but has since described herself as a “recovering journalist” and been accused of plagiarizing the New York Times. (She apologized.) “When in doubt,” the Cedar Rapids Gazettewrote recently, “Team Hinson bashes the media.”

For today’s newsletter, we decided to compile my initial examples, readers’ suggestions, and a few others that I subsequently found while searching around into an alphabetized encyclopedia of local TV journalists who made the leap into office-seeking. I use the term “journalist” here, rather than anchor, since we’re including some subsequent politicians who worked as on-air reporters, sports journalists, and meteorologists. But all worked for a local station. The result is a list of fifty-seven journalists across twenty-six states, thirty-one of them Republicans, nineteen Democrats, seven independents or of unclear party affiliation. Sarah Palin is here, as is Tucker Carlson’s dad. Two former anchors have served as the mayor of Spokane, Washington. The pipeline has also flowed prolifically in Jacksonville, Florida, for some reason.

This list still, surely, is not comprehensive. If you have further examples, please email me at [email protected]. We’ll consider updating this post online going forward. We hope this will be a useful resource, both now and for posterity. (For today’s other media news, skip over the list.)

After I wrote on Tuesday, the topic of local anchors running for office had a sad coda when Rep. Jackie Walorski, a one-time TV news reporter in Indiana who later won a US House seat in the state, was killed after a vehicle in which she was traveling veered into traffic. Zachery Potts and Emma Thomson, who worked for Walorski, also died. Our thoughts are with their families.

Here’s the list:

Mark Alford: Republican, Missouri. A former morning anchor on Fox 4 in Kansas City, Missouri, Alford this week won the primary for a safe Republican US House seat in Missouri after Vicky Hartzler, the incumbent, ran for US Senate. Brags on his campaign website that his “voice has been on live TV for more than 23,000 hours.” Said before launching his campaign that he did not find it easy “being in the media while also being a conservative Christian who respects law enforcement and wants to promote local entrepreneurs.” Has pledged to “fully investigate the 2020 election” because “we all know that something wasn’t right” with it.

Diane Allen: Republican, New Jersey. Worked as a news anchor at KYW and WCAU in Philadelphia before serving for two years in the New Jersey state assembly, then for twenty years in the state senate. Returned to politics last year as running mate to Jack Ciattarelli, the defeated Republican nominee for New Jersey governor. Reputed as a moderate.

Ken Amaro: Republican, Florida. Served for forty-two years as a consumer-affairs journalist at First Coast News in Jacksonville, where he became well-known for his bowties and on-air signoff: “Don’t get mad, just say ‘I’m telling Ken!’” Now running for city council, citing his long record of “Jacksonville families trusting me to serve as a voice for the voiceless.” The seat he is seeking is being vacated by another former anchor, Joyce Morgan (see below).

Julie Akins: Party affiliation unclear, Oregon. Worked in TV as an investigative journalist at stations in San Diego, Tampa, and Seattle, and was news director at KOBI in Medford, Oregon. She is now the mayor of nearby Ashland, having previously covered its city government.

Brenton Awa: Republican, Hawai‘i. A former news anchor at KITV in Honolulu. Announced last year that he is running for state senate. The primary is scheduled for next week.

Ron Bair: Party affiliation unclear, Washington State. A former anchor at KXLY in Spokane, Bair was elected mayor in 1977. Nadine Woodward later followed in his footsteps (see below).  

Rachel Barnhart: Democrat, New York. An anchor and reporter at WROC in Rochester before stepping down to run for office. Lost a US House primary in 2018. Now a county legislator.

Kristen Browde: Democrat, New York. A longtime local-TV reporter, Browde became the first transgender woman to run on a major party ticket in New York as the Democratic nominee for New Castle town supervisor in 2017. Lost and was also unsuccessful in a 2020 bid for the New York state assembly. Now a lawyer and co-chair of the National Trans Bar Association.

Dick Carlson: Republican, California. Among many other media jobs, worked as a reporter at KABC in LA and as an anchor at KFMB in San Diego, before quitting TV news, calling it “insipid, sophomoric, and superficial.” Was criticized at both stations for outing transgender women. Ran for mayor of San Diego in 1984, losing to Republican incumbent Roger Hedgecock even though the latter was under criminal indictment. Later served as director of the US-funded broadcaster Voice of America under Reagan and Bush, Sr. These days, his son is pretty famous.

Alan Cohn: Democrat, Florida. Had a long career in journalism before running unsuccessfully for a US House seat in Florida in 2014. Subsequently worked as a news anchor at ABC7 in Sarasota, before running again for the same seat in 2020, again without success. Is now running again in the same district, albeit based on a new map. The primary is this month.

Marc Cox: Party affiliation unclear, Missouri. Worked for various TV stations, including nineteen years at KMOV in St. Louis, where he was an anchor. Ran as an alderman in nearby Wildwood.

Rick Dancer: Republican, Oregon. A longtime anchor at KEZI in Eugene, Dancer ran as the GOP nominee for secretary of state in 2008, losing to Kate Brown, now Oregon’s governor. Courted controversy after announcing his bid for office on the news; Poynter ethicist Kelly McBride said that news staff at KEZI had “apparently been co-opted” into Dancer’s campaign.

Donna Deegan: Democrat, Florida. Formerly an anchor on First Coast News, where Ken Amaro also used to work. Now running for mayor of Jacksonville. The election will be next year.

Anne Doyle: Party affiliation unclear, Michigan. A reporter and anchor at WZZM in Grand Rapids starting in the seventies, before becoming a pioneering female sports reporter at Channel 2 in Detroit. Left journalism and later served on the city council in nearby Auburn Hills. 

M.L. Elrick: Party affiliation unclear, Michigan. Worked at Detroit stations including Fox 2 before winning a Pulitzer at the Free Press. (Also wrote about the “last great journalism bar in America” for CJR in 2018.) Took a buyout last year and ran for city council. “If this happens, people should rest assured this is not another chicken in the hen house,” he said. “This is a watchdog going in the hen house and chasing out the foxes.” It didn’t happen.

Deborah Gianoulis: Democrat, Florida. There must be something in the air in Jacksonville. A former anchor at WJXTwho ran for state senate in 2010. Lost to the Republican candidate.

Rod Grams: Republican, Minnesota. Worked at stations in Montana, Wisconsin, and Illinois before serving as a news anchor at KMSP in the Twin Cities. Later served in both the US House and Senate, where he represented Minnesota from 1995 to 2001. Later acquired radio stations.

J.D. Hayworth: Republican, Arizona. A sportscaster and anchor in South Carolina, Ohio, and Arizona in the eighties. Served in the US House from 1995 to 2007. Later seen on Newsmax.

Sonya Heitshusen: Democrat, Iowa. A former anchor on WHO in Des Moines who is now running for a seat in Iowa’s House of Representatives. Recently charged with reckless use of a firearm; she said she accidentally discharged a gun at home while checking it.

Cory Hepola: Forward Party of Minnesota, Minnesota. A former anchor on KARE in Minneapolis who left WCCO Radio earlier this year to run for governor as a third-party candidate. Was criticized by Democrats for vote-splitting. Dropped out in May.

Ashley Hinson: Republican, Iowa. See above. 

Gail Huff Brown: Republican, New Hampshire. A longtime TV journalist in New England who is now running for a US House seat in New Hampshire. The primary is next month. Married to Scott Brown, the former US senator for Massachusetts and Trump’s New Zealand ambassador.

Chris Hurst: Democrat, Virginia. An anchor at WDBJ in Roanoke, the station for which Alison Parker, Hurst’s then girlfriend, worked when she was shot dead live on air in 2015. Her colleague Adam Ward was also killed. Hurst decided to leave journalism and run for Virginia’s House of Delegates after being sent to cover a subsequent shooting, but he didn’t make gun laws the centerpiece of his campaign because, he told The Guardian, “we didn’t want the election to be a referendum on guns and Alison, we wanted it to be people really believing I could take my experience as a journalist and an evening news anchor and translate it into public service.” Won election in 2017 but lost his reelection bid last year.

Susan Hutchison: Republican, Washington State. A long-serving anchor at KIRO in Seattle, Hutchison ran for King County executive in 2009. Remained very active in Washington GOP politics, chairing the state party before serving as its nominee for US Senate in 2018. She lost.

Jay Johnson: Democrat, Wisconsin. An anchor and reporter at WLUK and WFRV, Johnson served a single term in the US House in the nineties. Later led the US Mint. Died in 2009.

Paul Junge: Republican, Michigan. An anchor at Fox 47 in Lansing before working for the Senate Judiciary Committee and US Citizenship and Immigration Services under Trump. Ran for a US House seat in 2020, losing to Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin. This week, became the GOP nominee for the seat again. Will take on Rep. Dan Kildee.

Rebecca Kleefisch: Republican, Wisconsin. A TV news anchor at Channel 12 in Milwaukee prior to serving as Wisconsin’s Republican lieutenant governor between 2011 and 2019. Is now seeking the GOP nomination for governor. Her primary is next week. Mike Pence is backing her.

Scott Klug: Republican, Wisconsin. A TV reporter at stations in DC, Seattle, and Wisconsin before serving four terms in the US House in the nineties.

Rob Kupec: Democrat, Minnesota. Chief meteorologist at KVRR in Fargo, North Dakota, Kupec is currently running for a state senate seat in neighboring Minnesota. KVRR said that Kupec would no longer appear on its newscasts given that he is running for office.

Kari Lake: Republican, Arizona. See above.

Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky: Democrat, Pennsylvania. Worked for NBC affiliates in Philadelphia and DC before serving a single term in the US House in the early nineties. Lost her reelection bid after saying she opposed a Bill Clinton budget that raised taxes, then voting for it. Tried and failed to return to Congress in 2014. Her son is married to Chelsea Clinton.

Liz Mathis: Democrat, Iowa. See above.

Kathleen Matthews: Democrat, Maryland. A longtime anchor at WJLA in DC, Matthews worked for the hotel chain Marriott before running for a US House seat in 2016. Lost the primary to Rep. Jamie Raskin, of January 6 committee fame. Married to former MSNBC host Chris Matthews.

Tom McCall: Republican, Oregon. Worked as a newspaper and radio commentator before becoming a TV host and winning election as governor of Oregon in 1967. Served two terms.

Gary Metivier: Republican, Iowa. An anchor at KWQC in the Quad Cities area, Metivier ran for the board of supervisors in Scott County in the current cycle. Dropped out earlier this year.

Steen Miles: Democrat, Georgia. A former reporter at WXIA in Atlanta, Miles served as a state senator before running unsuccessfully for US Senate in 2014. Died in 2017. According to the Georgia writer Brian Bannon, her name appeared on the ballot as “Steen ‘News Lady’ Miles.”

Helena Moreno: Democrat, Louisiana. Worked at WDSU in New Orleans before serving in the state House of Representatives and on the city council, of which she is now the president.

Joyce Morgan: Democrat, Florida. Worked in TV in Georgia before serving as an anchor at WJKS and WJXT in Jacksonville, before serving on the city council. Vacating the seat for which Ken Amaro (see above) is now running.

Michelle Mortensen: Republican, Nevada. A consumer reporter at KLAS in Las Vegas before running for seats in the US House and Nevada assembly in 2018 and 2020, respectively. When she quit KLAS, she said that she was “fed up with the liberal media attacking conservatives and conservative values.” She didn’t get past the primary in either of her bids.

Tiffany O’Donnell: Registered Republican, Iowa. A former anchor at KGAN in Cedar Rapids, O’Donnell was elected mayor of that city last year.

Sarah Palin: Republican, Alaska. Worked as a sports journalist at KTUU and KTVA in Anchorage, before… well, you know what happened next. Currently attempting a political comeback in Alaska. Sued the New York Times for libel and lost this year.

Dan Patrick: Republican, Texas. Also worked as a sports journalist, at stations in Scranton, DC, and Texas. Now the lieutenant governor of the latter state. Born Dannie Goeb, a station manager in Scranton reportedly advised him to change his last name to “Patrick” because it was easier to pronounce. Not to be confused with the other sportscaster called Dan Patrick.

Maclovio Perez: Democrat, Texas. A longtime broadcaster and meteorologist, Perez was reportedly known as “the number one weatherman” in San Antonio before decamping for KCBS in LA. He then returned to Texas, lastly as the broadcast meteorologist at KRIS in Corpus Christi. He is now the Democratic nominee for a US House seat in Texas.

Gerard Ramalho: Republican, Nevada. A former anchor at KSNV in Las Vegas, Ramalho launched a bid for Nevada secretary of state last year by standing on a TV-studio-style set and bemoaning how the media has “an agenda” these days. He lost the Republican primary.

Glenn Rinker: Republican, Florida. A longtime anchor at WRC in DC and WPLG in Miami, Rinker ran for a US House seat in Florida and won the Republican nomination, but lost in the general election. After that he returned to working as a TV anchor, at WPCX in Orlando.

Mark ​​Ronchetti: Republican, New Mexico. A TV meteorologist at KRQE in Albuquerque, Ronchetti won the GOP nomination for US Senate in 2020, only to lose the race to the Democratic incumbent Ben Ray Luján. Returned to his old job at KRQE after that, leading the Society of Professional Journalists to express concern. Ronchetti dismissed the criticism, saying that “politics is not involved in the weather.” Is now the GOP nominee for governor.

María Elvira Salazar: Republican, Florida. Started her career as a reporter at WLTV in Miami, before working for Telemundo and Univision. Won a US House seat in Florida in 2020.

Mike Snyder: Republican, Texas. A longtime anchor on NBC5 in Dallas, Snyder subsequently courted controversy when, while working in PR, he created fake Facebook accounts to berate critics, according to the Dallas Morning News. Ran for tax assessor-collector in Tarrant County in 2018, losing in a runoff in the Republican primary.

Eric Sorensen: Democrat, Illinois. A former meteorologist at WQAD in the Quad Cities area, Sorensen is now the Democratic nominee for a US House seat in Illinois, where he’s seeking to replace Cheri Bustos, the retiring Democratic incumbent. Lucy Schiller wrote a detailed profile of Sorensen for CJR in 2019, exploring how he made climate reporting local.

Robin Smith: Democrat, Missouri. A longtime anchor at KMOV in St. Louis, Smith was the Democratic nominee for Missouri secretary of state in 2016, losing the general election.

Al Swift: Democrat, Washington. Served as news director at KVOS in Bellingham, Washington, before serving eight terms in Congress as a Democrat in the state. Died in 2018.

Mike Thompson: Republican, Kansas. A longtime meteorologist at stations in Kansas City, Thompson has served in the Kansas state senate since 2020.

Scott Walker: Republican, Louisiana. After working at stations across the south and then at WDSU in New Orleans, Walker ran a PR consultancy and a donut shop before seeking a seat on the Jefferson Parish council. He was elected in 2019.

Jackie Walorski: Republican, Indiana. See above.

Tom Williams: Republican, Pennsylvania. A longtime anchor at WNEP in Scranton, Williams ran this year to be a state representative. He lost the GOP primary.

Nadine Woodward: Party affiliation unclear, Washington State. After retiring as an anchor at KXLY in Spokane, Woodward ran for mayor of the city in 2019 and won. Followed in the footsteps of Ron Bair (see above).

Andrea Zinga: Republican, Illinois. Worked for ten years as an anchor in the Quad Cities area, for a trio of local TV stations, before making a jump to CNN, where she won an Emmy for her role in covering the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing. Returned to local news after a few years, stopping in Texas before returning to a Quad Cities station in 2001. Ran for a US House seat in Illinois in 2004 and lost to a longtime Democratic incumbent; narrowly won a Republican primary for the same contest in 2006, but lost again.

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