OUR OPINION: Next time, more and earlier debates
Well, it's about time. Considering that the candidates have been trading insults and complaints about this subject since April, that's a first reaction to the news of the upcoming debates. In both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House races in North Dak...
Well, it's about time.
Considering that the candidates have been trading insults and complaints about this subject since April, that's a first reaction to the news of the upcoming debates.
In both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House races in North Dakota, candidates have been exceptionally shy this year. As Herald publisher and editor Mike Jacobs wrote in a recent column, "North Dakotans are seeing one of the most tightly controlled political campaigns ever undertaken in the state. Neither side is willing to take any risk."
Senate candidates John Hoeven and Tracy Potter have agreed to two debates -- but only two; Potter wants more, Hoeven doesn't.
And House candidates Rick Berg and Earl Pomeroy will meet Oct. 4 in a debate to be sponsored by Prairie Public in Fargo. Another debate may take place a week or so after that.
It's great that the debates finally are being agreed to and the dates are being announced. But truly, the weak and paltry schedules so far do a disservice to the voters of the state.
Contrast that situation with the one in Minnesota, where the three major candidates for governor are debating each other three times this week alone. And the debate season in the Gopher State already has been under way for more than a month: "Minnesota's major governor candidates wasted no time launching attacks on each other in the first debate of the general election campaign," the Duluth News-Tribune reported Aug. 14.
Sadly, Minnesota appears to be more of an exception this election year, while North Dakota is closer to the rule.
"According to an analysis conducted by the Huffington Post, nearly one in three of 76 competitive and currently active U.S. Senate candidates have made headlines this election season for either refusing to debate or expressing a palpable aversion to participating in such forums," a Huffington Post story reported Tuesday.
"Similarly, the same can be said for nearly one in four of 87 gubernatorial candidates whose re-election hopes remain alive."
That's a change from years past, when many fewer candidates would duck or so drastically limit the number of debates.
A big difference is the rise of the Internet, which lets candidates get controlled messages out to the public much more effectively than they could before. But the key word there is "controlled." What's good for the candidates is bad for the voters, who now have many fewer chances to see candidates in unscripted settings.
North Dakota voters should consider doing something about that.
Is there a way to institutionalize debates, to return them to their former status and role? Maybe there is. As suggested before in this space, the secretary of state could organize a series of debates between candidates for major offices.
The debates wouldn't be mandatory for candidates -- but they'd be close: They'd be a tradition, they'd boast the secretary's official imprimatur, and the candidates who
failed to show up would have no excuse.
One way or another, debates should be institutionalized and made routine in campaigns to come. They're vital tools of democracy and should rest on something stronger than candidates' whims.
-- Tom Dennis for the Herald