Who's To Debate?
The democratic process demands an informed electorate, and this in turn demands opportunities for voters to compare and contrast candidates. Over the years, to their shame, there have been candidates (usually incumbents) who have refused to participate in this process. After all, their thinking must go, why give challengers a chance to knock them down a peg? They already have the advantage of incumbency, after all, so why take a chance?
On Oct. 4, Gov. Bob Ehrlich announced that Friday, Oct. 13 would be the last date for which he would consider debating his opponent, Mayor Martin O'Malley. Further, he turned down all venues suggested by his opponent. Only after the O'Malley campaign made known to the media that Ehrlich had taken this stance did the Ehrlich campaign come up with a debate offer that stayed close to their announced guideline: There will be only one "debate," and it won't even be live. Instead, it will be pre-recorded on Oct. 14 and aired at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 16.
The two candidates have appeared together to debate only twice before, at the AARP Forum and the Maryland Disabilities Candidates Forum. Both of these events were held before the election really heated up. Now that the public's paying more attention, one would think that all candidates would be delighted to put their platforms before the public as often as possible, and before live audiences.
The O'Malley people have pursured this goal; Ehrlich's have not. During the summer, the O'Malley side proposed to the Ehrlich side that the two candidates take part in five debates (plus two for the Lieutenant Governor candidates, Kristen Cox and Anthony Brown, respectively the running mates of Ehrlich and O'Malley). No written response arrived from Ehrlich's campaign staff, but they did finally get together on September 1 to hammer out an agreement for two TV debates and one debate on the radio. O'Malley's people say they attempted three times over the past five weeks to elicit agreement as to venues, sponsors, and dates for these agreed-upon events, but received no response--until after they went public with their complaint that the Ehrlich people weren't being cooperative.
On Oct. 4, Ehrlich's campaign rejected all proposed debate venues suggested by the O'Malley campaign, including WJZ Channel 13, week of October 16 or after; WMDT 47 in Salisbury, MD, week of October 16 or after; Maryland Public Television, week of October 23; NAACP 2006 Gubernatorial Debate on October 24 at 7 p.m. at Carl Murphy Fine Arts Center, Morgan State University; and WTOP’s “The Politics Program” with Mark Plotkin, week of October 30. The Ehrlich campaign did not accede to a WJZ event until after the O'Malley campaign went public.
No matter what a voter's political party affiliation or political beliefs might be, all should be appalled at the high-handedness of Ehrlich's stance. If Ehrlich's staff didn't like the choices proposed by the O'Malley staff, they should have beeen proposing alteratives and coming to a compromise that can serve the public interest. One pre-recorded encounter airing at 7 p.m. on a Monday night doesn't cut it.
Politics, after all, is all about the art of compromise. At least, that's true in a free and democratic society.
We urge readers of all political persuasions to contact the Ehrlich campaign and ask for more debates: visit his website at bobehrlich.com/.
This editorial was revised on Oct. 5, 2006 to take into account the new information regarding the WJZ broadcast.
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This story was published on October 4, 2006.