Unusual debate strategy warrants critical look
No one hates politics more than me -- that may sound ironic coming from the local government reporter for the Telegram -- but it's true. Day-to-day, it's rare that I deal with "politics." Locally, I mostly deal with good people who want to do wha...
No one hates politics more than me - that may sound ironic coming from the local government reporter for the Telegram - but it's true.
Day-to-day, it's rare that I deal with "politics." Locally, I mostly deal with good people who want to do what's best for the community, even when most disagree with them.
That's why I find myself sometimes perplexed by what happens in Washington, D.C., which seems disaffected by Main Street America. In a national political season, it's name-calling, finger-pointing, one-liners and insults on steroids.
Like many, I just want the noise to stop.
I'm progressive at heart. I want to know what a candidate is going to do to solve problems and move us forward - I'm not terribly interested in the spin that defies good governance.
Those are the reasons Danielle Kaeding, Wisconsin's Public Radio Superior reporter, and I talked earlier this month. For the better part of two decades, I've sat side-by-side with my peers at WPR and other local media outlets to pose questions to candidates running for national offices right here in northern Wisconsin about their approach to national policy.
Voters cannot make an informed decision if they don't know where the candidates stand.
The debates hosted by Wisconsin Public Radio in Superior were an important part of the voting process, and Kaeding and I agreed the debate that didn't happen here two years ago had to be restored. Kaeding took the lead contacting the campaigns for candidates in the 7th Congressional District.
I waited and wondered, but I wasn't worried until I got a call last week from Darrin Schmitz, who identified himself as representing Republican Congressman Sean Duffy's campaign.
Schmitz asked if I would be willing to serve on a debate panel.
I advised Schmitz that I would take his number and call him back once I contacted Kaeding.
Kaeding was sending multiple emails and making calls trying to negotiate a date that would work for both candidates in the 7th Congressional District. As yet, I hadn't heard of a date or time.
As member of the fourth estate - those responsible for holding three branches of government accountable - I'd never encountered anything like this.
When I talked to Kaeding, I learned she didn't know anything about it. That was last Tuesday and the debate announcement didn't come until Thursday.
Frankly, in nearly two decades, I've never been asked to serve as a debate panelist by a political campaign. Those calls always came from my mentor and late friend, WPR Superior bureau reporter, Mike Simonson, who was disappointed two years ago that his 24-year tradition was ending in a year when the only WPR debate was held in Wausau, Wis.
I had talked to the Democratic candidate Mary Hoeft on Wednesday, the day before the debate announcement was made, wondering if any debates had been set. Hoeft wasn't aware of any.
I already knew that Kaeding hadn't received a reply to a proposed Oct. 19 debate, nearly a week after the proposal was sent. The response she got came Thursday, announcing debates in Wausau and Hayward.
That may be great marketing or public relations - control the message. It's not necessarily good for governance or for voters trying to make informed decisions in a representative republic.
I had two questions when I returned Schmitz call: Who is sponsoring the debate - the incumbent candidate or the media; and who decides what questions will be asked - the reporters serving as panelists or campaign staffers.
I have no first-hand answers to offer. My call wasn't returned when I made no commitment in my message.
It's the same experience Kaeding had when her final email to Duffy's campaign staff went unheeded until the campaign staff sent her notice of a Nov. 3 debate in Wausau and Nov. 4 in Hayward.
Duffy's campaign staff stated WZAW Wausau's FOX station, is planning to broadcast the Nov. 3 debate, which will be held at 7 p.m. at Northcentral Technical College, if you're in the area. The debate Nov. 4 starts at 7 p.m. at the Hayward Community High School. In both cases, four journalists serve as panelists.
For me though, these debates are well outside the norm - and should be approached with critical thought.
It appears the days are gone when long-serving Congressman Dave Obey faced no Republican challenger, but still showed up in Superior in 2004 to debate two third-party challengers, Mike Miles of the Green Party and Larry Oftedahl of the Constitution Party.
That's how it should work.
And it's unfortunate for voters that Duffy's campaign appears to be controlling the message.
Form your own opinion, but listen to the debates with a critical ear. Then get out and vote, so we don't end up with a government no one wants.