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Without debates, how does the public know?

Posted 4/15/14

Debates have long been a part of running a campaign for public office – particularly if you’re not the incumbent, and want as many voters as possible to know where you stand.

 

But there has developed a disturbing trend this spring …

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Without debates, how does the public know?

Posted

Debates have long been a part of running a campaign for public office – particularly if you’re not the incumbent, and want as many voters as possible to know where you stand.

 

But there has developed a disturbing trend this spring leading up to the May 20 primary election: A refusal by candidates to debate.

 

Take what happened in Elizabethtown recently. The endorsed Democratic candidate in a race for a state House of Representatives seat has refused to debate another Democratic candidate for his party’s nomination, saying it was pointless.

 

“Your typical debate – 50 of my supporters, 50 of the other guy’s supporters,’’ explained Tony Crocamo, seeking the Democratic nomination to run against incumbent Rep. David Hickernell in November, in a story that appeared in the April 3 edition of the Elizabethtown Advocate.

 

He believes he can sway more undecided voters going door-to-door than by debating his opponent. Even if he wins his party’s nomination, he has no plans to challenge Hickernell to a debate, either, he told the newspaper.

 

Crocamo isn’t the only one who didn’t see the merits of a debate: The League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania – Citizens Education Fund cancelled a debate among Democratic candidates for governor that was scheduled for April 11 in Gettysburg because of a lack of participation. “It is unfortunate that this opportunity will not proceed as planned,’’ said Susan J. Carty, president of the league.

 

Such a cynical view of debates misses an important function of such events: They give voters who choose to listen access to candidates and their positions. How do we know where they stand if they’re not willing to tell us publicly? It’s doubtful any candidate will knock on every door of every voter before an election. This is one way we know whether a candidate should get our vote.

 

To that end, the Press And Journal attempted to inform local voters about the candidates for Middletown mayor, Middletown Borough Council and local offices in Londonderry Twp. and Royalton in a special voters’ guide last May. While many candidates participated, providing their stand on issues in their own words, we were surprised at how many refused the opportunity – and the opportunity to do the same in pre-election stories by a rival newspaper and website.

 

It should be no secret where a candidate stands on the issues of the day. Indeed, if the public’s business is done in public, it would be impossible for an elected official to hide where they stand.

 

Why not tell them why you’re worthy of their vote?

 

Rejecting debates outright denies voters a chance to learn enough about you to decide if they’ll vote for you. A video of a mayoral debate at Penn State Harrisburg last fall drew a number of viewers to our website. We've found that many people are paying attention.

 

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