For the week of August 26 thru September 1, 1998  

Kempthorne strategy gyps voters


Democratic gubernatorial candidate Robert Huntley has been on the campaign trail this month debating an empty chair. It’s his way of making people notice that Republican candidate U.S. Sen. Dirk Kempthorne has refused to debate.

The Kempthorne campaign said the senator couldn’t debate because of scheduling conflicts. It’s hard to imagine what conflicts could keep a politician with an election just two months away off the stump.

It looks like Kempthorne doesn’t want to debate the sharp-witted but underfunded Huntley, who is a former Idaho Supreme Court Justice. It looks like Kempthorne’s strategy is to play the important senator who has better things to do.

It’s a tried and true strategy, but it’s a gyp.

It cheats the public because it eliminates the clash of ideas that is the foundation of American democracy. It saps vitality from the political process.

It bores voters and encourages them to stay home from the polls. It makes it difficult for voters to find out what the candidates think about anything more serious than their haircuts or the color of their ties.

The strategy encourages ignorance because it fails to educate the very public Kempthorne says he wishes to serve.

The strategy allows Kempthorne to preach to the choir and to protect his future policies from any kind of intellectual challenge. It keeps him hidden behind his considerable campaign war chest.

This puts the election into the hands of highly paid electronic spin-meisters who can make Kempthorne a virtual candidate—prepackaged by polls and filmmakers to be just what the public wants to see.

The strategy will turn this campaign into an advertising spending contest, something the public has said it detests.

Kempthorne and Huntley probably will face each other in just one poorly watched public television broadcast in October. That’s a shame.

A series of debates around the state would allow voters to see the candidates in person and to take the measure of the men. The debates would give candidates time to address regional as well as statewide issues. After all, Idaho is looking for a governor for all of Idaho, not just a single region.

Kempthorne should re-think his refusal to fill the empty chair To continue to refuse Huntley’s invitation to debate is to fail voters and undermine the democratic process.

 

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