Friday, September 26, 2014

TV debates: Aw-shucks exercises

    Idaho Gov. Butch Otter frustrated and obstructed what should be a vigorous election process this week when he was a no-show in a debate with challengers Democrat A.J. Balukoff and Libertarian John Bujak in Twin Falls, a debate sponsored by the Times-News.
    His failure to appear was an affront to every Central Idaho voter and an attempt to squelch widespread, vigorous debate on the serious matters facing Idahoans—falling wages, a weak economy, underfunded primary and secondary education, crumbling roads and bridges, lagging energy policies, declining water tables and politically driven wolf management. Without Otter’s attendance, a sparse crowd of about 50 people attended, small for an area with a population of more than 45,000 people.
    Otter has accepted invitations to just four debates, all in October and all to be broadcast statewide. The idea of statewide broadcasts sounds good—but such debates are too limited because they are strictly controlled. The control turns what should be season-long, free-wheeling debates into aw-shucks exercises in seeing which candidate can drag a toe of their cowboy boot most convincingly through the dust. They rarely, if ever, are clashes of widely divergent ideas and opinions.
    The Twin Falls debate—the only one in Central Idaho—could have been different. Matters of state aren’t occupying Otter’s time. Unlike the president, his time isn’t being consumed by matters like attacking terrorists in Iraq and Syria or staunching the spread of the deadly Ebola virus that is projected to infect more than a million people within a few short months.
    With two terms under his belt, Otter apparently wishes to face detractors as few times as possible and only in tightly controlled situations. It’s a good way to avoid the discomfort of pesky and difficult questions from mere voters and avoid allowing voters to make serious comparisons between candidates. It’s a great way to keep Idahoans in the dark.

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