November 25, 2022

If political candidates want votes, they must win them by participating in public debates [editorial] | Our opinion

THE PROBLEM

As the Associated Press reported in an article published in the Sunday LNP | LancasterOnline, Republican candidate for governor of Pennsylvania Doug Mastriano “rejected a media-moderated debate and instead booked a hotel ballroom on October 22 and chose himself a partisan moderator. … Democrat Josh Shapiro’s campaign said Mastriano’s refusal to accept an independent moderator blew up a dozen invitations from news organizations and other groups.” Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s Democratic candidate for the US Senate, said he would not debate his Republican opponent, Mehmet Oz, until late October. And U.S. Republican Representative Lloyd Smucker declined to participate in a pair of debates hosted by his hometown newspaper, LNP | LancasterOnline, and has yet to agree to a traditional debate with Bob Hollister, his Democratic challenger in the contest to represent the 11th congressional district.

Modern politicians tend to surround themselves with yes men and women. Many of them are more comfortable in echo chambers and their own partisan bubbles. They get used to dictating the terms of each of their public appearances.

But it’s not like that anymore.

Former U.S. Representative Bob Walker, a Republican who served as Lancaster County’s representative in Congress from 1977 to 1997, told LNP | LancasterOnline editor Tom Murse in a recent interview said he “can’t remember ever turning down a debate”.

Walker said: “Everyone running for office should test their opinions against the opposition. … I always thought that debates were an important part of the body politic.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Debates can be difficult for political candidates, but they are essential for voters, who deserve to know as much as possible about the candidates seeking their votes.

Mastriano vs. Shapiro

Voters should be allowed to hear Mastriano develop his views on abortion, for example.

As Philadelphia’s public radio station WHYY reported, Mastriano said during a primary debate that he wants to make abortion illegal from “conception”. He does not support exceptions for rape or incest or to save a mother’s life.

Her extreme stance is likely to scare off moderate Republican women – a key demographic.

Mastriano probably does not want to detail publicly his plans for the Pennsylvania elections. He said he wanted to require registered voters in the state to re-register — which would violate federal law. And he indicated that he would choose a Secretary of State, the Commonwealth Elections Officer, who would change the election rules as he saw fit.

We’re sure Mastriano doesn’t want to explain why he remained on the grounds of the US Capitol after it was raped by violent insurgents on January 6, 2021. Or detail the extent of his involvement in efforts to overthrow the 2020 presidential election. Or explain why he is suing the congressional committee investigating Jan. 6. Or why his campaign paid right-wing social media platform Gab — a haven for anti-Semitic and racist conspiracy theorists — $5,000 for “advisory services.”

The list of questions that Mastriano does not want to answer is long.

That is why, in his attempts to escape the impartial interrogations of professional journalists who ask questions for a living, Mastriano seeks the shelter of his right-wing echo chamber.

As The Philadelphia Inquirer reported, “Mastriano, who maintains a campaign policy of not interacting with most reporters, instead offered campaign-led debates, each with their own moderator. Shapiro dismissed this, calling it a “stunt”. ”

It’s a waterfall.

Mastriano’s continued attacks on the free press are dangerous. He’s not just looking to control the narrative, he wants voters to listen only to him. And “listen” is the key word: he does not want to be asked questions. History has shown where this strategy leads, and it is nowhere good.

We imagine that Mastriano hopes to miss the time allotted for the debates.

Unfortunately, he is not alone.

Hollister vs. Smucker

Smucker, as we noted in Sunday’s op-ed, has only accepted an event with his challenger, Hollister, on ABC27 that will not air live or include an in-studio voting audience. . A Smucker campaign spokesperson accused LNP | LancasterOnline of “blatant prejudice”.

It is true that the LNP | LancasterOnline’s editorial board criticized Smucker for failing to vote for legislation that would directly benefit his constituents (such as a cap on the price of insulin). That council also called on Smucker to resign after voting against accepting Pennsylvania’s electoral votes for Joe Biden just hours after the assault on the US Capitol.

But the Editorial Board operates independently of LNP | The Lancaster Online Newsroom. And as Murse wrote in his column on Sunday, “the newspaper’s team of reporters strives to report the news objectively, accurately and honestly, without bias or distortion.”

Hollister testifies to this. He said TNL | LancasterOnline has it covered for over a decade, including when he was superintendent of the East Lancaster County School District.

“Just because I didn’t like everything that was reported doesn’t mean it was inaccurate,” Hollister told LNP | Lancaster Online reporter. “I think facts are facts, and if you don’t like the facts, then I guess you don’t like the source reporting them.”

We’re guessing former US Representative Walker didn’t like everything that was reported about him during his time in Congress. And yet, he frequently held in-person town halls open to the general public, and he continues to answer questions from reporters to this day. He told Murse he thinks it’s unhealthy for the country that today’s politicians are “communicating from a distance”.

“I always find there are people I vehemently disagree with who, when I talk to them face to face, I find we have things in common; there are things that fit my philosophy that also make sense to them,” Walker said.

How refreshing.

Fetterman vs. Oz

It’s not just Republican candidates who are reluctant to debate.

John Fetterman, who suffered a stroke just before the primary election in May, agreed to do just one debate in October. In a statement released last week, Fetterman said, “We are absolutely going to debate Dr. Oz, and we always intended to. It was just to fix some of the lingering issues with my stroke, auditory processing, and we’re going to be able to fix that. And in a statement on Wednesday, Fetterman said he had committed to a panel hosted by Nexstar on Oct. 25.

oz said the Axios website that he wants to debate Fetterman this month before voters start voting by mail. Which is a reasonable request.

It is true, as Fetterman pointed out in his statement, that US Senate debates have traditionally been held in October in Pennsylvania. But that tradition was established before no-apology mail-in voting became an option for Pennsylvanians.

We’d love to see Fetterman discuss Oz as soon as possible. If his speech is flawed, the thousands of Pennsylvanians who have had strokes — and the thousands more who know stroke survivors or work with them — will understand.

Additionally, Fetterman’s health and medical records should be fair game for questioning and verification in this debate. His campaign was suspicious on the issue; voters deserve better.

Debates should be about free exchange and testing of ideas, sparked by nonpartisan moderators whose sole purpose is to help voters better understand the candidates seeking their votes.

Debates are not about perfection. They talk about transparency. They talk about democracy.

This op-ed was updated at 1 p.m. Wednesday, September 14 with news from the October 25 debate.