Friday, September 3, 2010

In letter, Donoval demands debates

Proposed forums exclude 3rd-party candidate

Express Staff Writer

Michelle Stennett

Though candidate forums and debates are common occurrences during the election season, rarely does a local candidate attempt to organize his or her own set of debates.

But that's what Jim Donoval, Sun Valley resident and Republican candidate for the District 25 state Senate seat, is doing.

In a letter to Democratic candidate Michelle Stennett of Ketchum, Donoval suggests five debates, three of which would be held in Blaine County. The letter outlines a strict format for the debates and excludes Constitutional Party candidate Randall Peterson, the current mayor of Carey.

"I'm willing to work on figuring out a format," Donoval said in an interview Thursday.

His letter, however, leaves little room for flexibility. A news release from Donoval dated Aug. 30 states that Stennett must agree to the number and format of the proposed debates before Sept. 10.

If she does not, the release states, Donoval will conduct "Meet the Candidate" forums where he will tell voters that Stennett refused to debate him and is therefore unqualified to serve as state senator.

Jonathan Parker, executive director of the Idaho State Republican Party, said it is not unusual for a debate of this sort to exclude a third-party candidate such as Patterson.

But District 25 Rep. Wendy Jaquet, a Ketchum-area Democrat running unopposed for her seat this year, said she thinks Donoval's request is unusual.

"I've never seen a candidate who set up his own debates," she said.

The exclusion of Patterson from the debates also seemed strange to George Yerion, vice president of the Gooding Chamber of Commerce, who is organizing a candidate forum for that county. District 25 includes Blaine, Camas, Gooding and Lincoln counties.

"I would think you'd need to have everyone who is on the ballot represented," Yerion said.

Donoval defended his decision to try to exclude Patterson, saying that Patterson should have to prove he has the votes before entering a debate.

"Being a legal candidate and being a practical contender for the seat are two different things," he said in an interview. "He should have to prove that he is legitimate. Otherwise, it's just a waste of time for me to have him up there."

Donoval's proposed method by which Patterson can prove his legitimacy is to collect 500 signatures on a petition. That would make him eligible for inclusion in the debates.

"He'd have to get 7,000 votes to win the district," Donoval said. "If he doesn't get 500 signatures now, he can't get 7,000 votes in November."

There are currently at least four Legislature candidate forums in the district in the planning process.

The Gooding County Republicans, the Lincoln County Republicans, the Gooding Chamber of Commerce and the Idaho Mountain Express are planning moderated forums for September and October, though the latter two organizations have yet to finalize dates.

Spokespeople for both the chamber and the Express have stated that their events will be open to all candidates on the ballot.

Donoval called for the debates, he said, because Stennett has never run for her seat. Though she is the incumbent, last session Stennett was filling in for her husband, former Sen. Clint Stennett, who stepped down due to health reasons.

In his release, Donoval accuses Stennett of being a "puppet" of sitting Reps. Jaquet and Donna Pence, and calls for her to stop "hiding behind" the representatives.

Stennett said that the four debates already being planned would suffice, and that she would not engage in any debate that did not include all candidates. Calls to Patterson were not returned as of press time.

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