The most frequent newspaper question I'm asked is why I ever asked Tom Sears to write a column in The Daily Star.
Sears, a Hartwick College professor of accounting, regularly infuriates the more-liberal element of our readership with his ardent conservative prose.
The second-most frequent newspaper question I'm asked is when I'm going to stop running Tom Sears' columns.
I always respond to calls for Tom's head _ not to mention other parts of his anatomy _ the same way.
"I've got his back," I say. "Tom's doing a great job."
Regular readers of my columns (and shame on you if you are not one of them) may wonder why someone who disagrees so strongly with just about everything Tom Sears writes would be so steadfast in his support.
Well, now the answer to that great mystery can finally be revealed.
Tom Sears is my turkey.
Or, put a bit more accurately, he's soon to be the benefactor of my hot turkey sandwich.
Two years ago, we wagered on whether the Democrats would achieve a majority in the House of Representatives. I said they would, and Tom insisted they wouldn't.
All we bet back then was a vanilla malted, which Tom had to purchase for me after the election.
This year, we wagered a lunch on whether my Barack Obama would beat his John McCain.
We'll be having lunch _ courtesy of Tom's credit card _ soon.
You know, I really like Tom, We're poles apart on virtually everything political, but there is no denying the man is good company, particularly when he has to buy me something to eat.
When it comes to politics, Sears is the worst kind of gambler, someone who allows his rooting interest to color what should be his sound judgment.
He's like the fan of a lousy football team who bets good money on it because he wants it to win rather than because it actually has a good chance to win.
People like Tom are exceedingly rare. Not only does he make chump bets, but he graciously pays them off with a smile and throws in entertaining conversation.
So, is losing bets to me why Tom will continue to write his Daily Star column for as long as he wants?
As much as I'd love to say "yes," that's not the reason.
Well, not the only reason, anyway.
There are a whole lot of Daily Star readers who believe that everything Tom writes is the gospel. As hard as that is to believe, I know it to be a fact, because I've spoken to several of them.
Tom's columns are a counterpoint to those of Tom "Uncle Chet" Grace. The two gentlemen's writings appear on Page 3 on alternate Tuesdays, and each certainly has his own audience.
My columns tend to be somewhat to the right of Grace's and far to the left of Sears'. As a moderately left-of-center kind of guy, I could never effectively reach either's core audience.
Both are articulate, strong-willed and controversial. As their editor, I like that. I particularly like that conservatives have a very good reason to read my newspaper because of Tom Sears.
We editors tend to get tired of folks accusing us of leading a communist cabal with an agenda to spread liberal dogma.
It's just not true around here.
In addition to Sears and Grace, this newspaper alternates national conservative columnists with liberals every day on its Opinion page.
A Bill O'Reilly or Pat Buchanan is fine, but no conservative writer consistently gets our readers riled up like Tom Sears.
We have very few liberal readers who dislike Tom's columns. No, they don't dislike them.
They hate them.
They despise them.
They loathe them.
But dislike them? No.
On the other hand, I've had several conversations with conservatives who have told me Tom Sears is the only writer at The Daily Star who knows what the (insert your own expletive here) he's talking about.
I absolutely love the look on their faces when I ask the following question: "Well, who do you think asked the son-of-a-gun to write those columns in the first place?"
And I'm very glad I did. Tom Sears makes my newspaper better.
Besides, where would I ever find another columnist who makes such wonderful sucker bets?
Sam Pollak is editor of The Daily Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (607) 432-1000, ext. 208.