For the last week or so we’ve been distributing flyers around the area to try to elicit some questions from the community. Personally, I like doing it this way. We have gotten some questions submitted from the community already in the last couple of weeks after we first mentioned plans for the event in one of my columns. We hope to continue to receive great input, and feel free to drop us a question via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ve been playing around with ideas for our format, and I think we’re going to go ahead and go with the following formula: Each candidate will get a 3-minute opening statement, and from there we’ll go on to questions, asked by the moderator. The first five questions will be selected by the moderator, and will be provided to each candidate 48 hours prior to the debate.
We’ll start with a coin flip to see who gets to go first, and after that individual finishes their 1-minute response to the first question, the second candidate will get one minute to answer it as well. After that, we’ll move on to the next question with the candidate who spoke second for the first question speaking first. I guess I’ll have to email each of them the questions so I can ensure they’ll get there at the same time. Although I have to say, it is tempting to be ultra-dramatic and present each with the questions in sealed envelopes during a secret meeting while wearing a cape. After that, we’ll put all the questions from the community in a hat and draw from there until time expires. We’re holding this thing to one hour, and we’re going to ask that our audience allows our candidates to depart in peace when that time comes to an end.
And who will the moderator be, you might ask? Me! I totally just broke one of my own rules right there (you can’t use an exclamation point in the newspaper), but I’m very excited to be the moderator and am looking forward to the whole thing in general. There are so many interesting people in this county, and it’s always fun to get a lot of them in one room.
I do want to mention a few things here about our upcoming debate just so everyone can feel “in the know.” Mainly, I know there’s interest in a county commissioners debate, as well as interest in having questions asked directly from the audience. We’ve thought long and hard about both of these factors, and I am sorry to say that’s not going to be part of our format. As with most things in this life, there’s a lot of reasons why, but the main ones are interest and integrity.
I’m just going to be completely honest here: I really haven’t heard a lot of public interest in another debate. We’ve done this already. To me, it’s a rerun, but I will bow to the wisdom that the dynamics of the judges’ race has changed because we had such an overcrowded pool during the primaries. That said, I did hear just enough (and I mean just enough) interest from people to feel like we should do one. That, however, has not been the case in reference to the county commissioners race. But again, I will bow to wisdom – that I’m in the wrong to think that it’s not a newspaper’s responsibility to take the lead in a community’s approach to politics. That said, I’ll meet half way on this one and invite these guys to say something, but I haven’t heard enough interest in this race to ask our employees and members of this community to take that time away from their responsibilities and their families.
The questions from the community part is where the integrity of the event comes in. I wasn’t in this community yet when we had our first judges’ debate, but from what I understand, it got a little unruly. I honestly don’t feel that our newspaper (with all its vast corporate army and chalices spun from fine silver) is capable of ensuring the integrity of this program if we attempt to provide this format. That’s not a debate, that’s a public forum.
Now you might say, “Dan! You just blasted our commissioners court a few weeks ago for not answering questions from the community, and now you’re not going to let us do it at your event? What gives, dude?” Well, I don’t have a sheriff’s department at my disposal to keep order, and I don’t have any legal power of any kind. I’m just a dude, man, and though I don’t know exactly how things went down last time, I’m not going to increase the risk of turning this thing into something we can’t control.
If you want to know my opinion, I think that any political party that endorses a candidate should be legally required to provide public forum access to candidates on at least one occasion prior to both primary and general elections. I think it should be the duty of the presiding governmental body and law enforcement agency to conduct the debate, of course with some sort of oversight from some kind of other body. You don’t want to make yourself available? Fine, you don’t get to run on a party ticket. Run as an independent all you want. Good luck with all that.
I wish I could do it, and I strongly encourage all candidates for public office to seek avenues to make themselves available to the public, and I also strongly encourage all entities tied to political parties to pursue planning something where the community members can ask specific questions to candidates in a public forum.
But sorry, you can be disappointed all you want; I’m not subjecting our candidates or our community to endless questions about the courthouse annex.
See you there. I’ll be the nervous-looking one.