No debate about debates

Published 12:24 pm Saturday, March 15, 2008

By Staff
At least the Republican candidates for governor are debating. Now, if the Democratic candidates for the state’s top post would do the same thing.
State Treasurer Richard Moore wants mores debates with Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue. On the day he filed to run for governor, Moore challenged Perdue to debate him. Moore contends several televised events have provided forums for meaningful discussions of the issues.
Both Democrats are seeking to replace Gov. Mike Easley. Perdue, so far, has declined Moore’s invitation to engage in more debates. For someone who’s been a public servant for as long as Perdue has been serving the public, that’s a disservice to North Carolina voters.
Former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, state Sen. Fred Smith, Salisbury attorney Bill Graham and Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, all Republicans debated one another Wednesday night. That’s a good thing for voters.
Earlier Wednesday, the four Republican candidates joined Moore at a forum on education issues. The forum was part of the N.C. Association of School Administrators meeting in Greensboro. Perdue, citing scheduling conflicts and several “nonpublic events,” chose not to attend the forum, according to published reports.
There’s a saying that front-runners in political races should not debate because they have more to lose than gain. Well, there’s another saying: Voters deserve to know where candidates stand on issues. Yes, political advertising informs voters about a candidate’s views, but those advertisements don’t always provide in-depth reasons why the candidate has taken a certain stand on a certain issue.
Debates add substance to campaigns. Debates provide voters to see how candidates do when being questioned about their views and their records. Debates provide forums for exchanges of ideas and solutions to problems. Debates allow one candidate to ask another candidate probing questions. For example, one candidate who calls for cutting spending and lowering taxes could be asked by another candidate to explain why that must be accomplished and provide specifications on how it can be accomplished.
Perdue should debate Moore and William Nielsen, a Democrat from Nash County. Nielsen isn’t as well-known as Perdue or Moore, but he’s a candidate. As such, voters should know what he has to say about governing the state. Nielsen said he’s the candidate who best understands the everyday, average person. A debate could show if that is the case.
Debates should allow candidates to rebut one another. Debates should allow moderators to follow up on questions asked of candidates and statements made by candidates.
Most North Carolina residents won’t watch televised debates or attend debates in person, but there are some who would watch each one or attend each one. Debates usually translate into poor ratings. Television executives should air debates as a public service. If commercial TV stations won’t do it, then UNC-TV should do it. After all, UNC-TV is public television. Airing the debates would be a public service of the highest magnitude.
Republican candidates should continue debating until their May 6 primary. Democratic candidates should engage in debates, too.
After the May 6 primaries determine the Democratic and Republican nominees for governor, those nominees should debate. North Carolina’s voters deserve no less. They should demand no less.