Sunday, April 29, 2012


In 1960, Richard Nixon and Jack Kennedy sat face-to-face for the first televised presidential debate.  Nixon was said to look nervous and his five o’clock shadow didn’t help.  Kennedy was charismatic.  Being only eight years old at the time, I can’t relate the substance of the debate, but I do recall that Kennedy was declared the winner that evening. 

In every election cycle we are told that the country is at a turning point – a critical crossroad.  2012 is no different.  Nationally, we are slowly crawling back from a monster of a recession and we are winding down two bloody forays into Middle Eastern and Central Asian politics, while necessary domestic programs are going unfunded, schools and infrastructure are crumbling and college kids can no longer afford to attend.  And, of course, too many people are still out of work.  There is plenty to debate.

California’s newly formed Sixth Assembly District encompassing parts of Sacramento, El Dorado and Placer Counties, is a microcosm of America.  Yet no debate is happening.  Why? 

Ms. Gaines
There are three candidates from the two major political parties vying for voter approval in the 6th AD.  Specifically, the Republican incumbent, Beth Gaines, is facing both a Republican challenger and a Democratic challenger.

Mr. Pugno
The Republican is Andy Pugno, an attorney closely associated with California’s Proposition 8 – the constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage.

Mr. Bronner
 The Democrat is Reginald Bronner, a Naval veteran with experience in high-tech business development, sales and marketing.

The El Dorado County League of Women Voters scheduled a candidate form but was informed by the incumbent that she could not attend due to “a conflict in schedule.”  In Placer County, Sierra Community College in conjunction with the League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women attempted to schedule a forum and was met with similar response.

Ever since Nixon / Kennedy, debates have devolved into events centered more on style than substance, more on cool than resolve, more on pitch lines and sound bites than solutions.  And, like cynical fans at a stock car race hoping for a fiery collision, commentators guide viewers to those points when a candidate imploded rather than when someone offered, with sparkling clarity, a viable path forward.  Who’d want to subject him or herself to that?

One can only speculate as to why local candidates in a competitive political race find it inconvenient to debate.  Certainly, witnessing what happens to candidates in nationally televised forums must give one pause.  But local races – where, as Tip O’Neill famously said, “All politics is” – are not glitzy mud-wrestling affairs arranged to for spectacle.  Rather, local forums are those councils where the public can hear the candidate and respond in a manner unfiltered by a network’s point of view. 

So perhaps the no-debate ploy is about something else.  Perhaps it is about rigid ideological views that do not really offer solutions to the issues facing the district and the nation.  Perhaps it is about views that cannot withstand thoughtful scrutiny of an opponent.  Perhaps it is about sharing views one doesn’t truly hold in his or her heart.  Or, perhaps the candidate indeed has a dental appointment that just can’t be rearranged.

Enter the individual who wishes to have a substantive discussion on the issues of the day: the one who understands that a vast and moderate middle exists in America, the one who believes that joining hands in more productive than standing ideological grounds.  Without a forum for debate, how are voters to determine which candidate can dig deeper than simply repeating platitudes or signing vacant pledges?

It does seem that those shunning the debate are happy to purchase air time on local media and to place placards throughout the district thinking that voters will pull the lever for the one who has greatest “name recognition.”  To their credit, tapping signs into the ground is a safer bet than going face-to-face with someone who can articulate plans to reemploy thousands, refocus government spending priorities, promote education and foster growth in the region.

Curious, ain’t it?  The bottom line is this:  When there is no forum for discussion of the issues, the only loser is the voting public – a public that should demand better from those holding office.


Note:  Absent a robust one-on-one-on-one debate, perhaps the next best venue for determining the stances of those running for office is provided on the Internet through their official campaign websites.  Here are links to those for Ms. Gaines, Mr. Pugno and Mr. Bronner.

A little scratching around on these sites will tell us what the candidate wants us to know.  If the website has an “issues” button, that’s a pretty good place to start.  Understand, however, that a campaign website is a safe place for anyone to express anything without being subjected to public scrutiny or direct challenge.  For that to happen, folks need to meet face-to-face.  And we need to watch.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

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