We’ve talked before about Utah’s disappointingly low voter turnout rate. We believe strongly that healthy political debate is crucial in helping educate voters and encourage turnout. With that in mind, we partnered with KCPW, a Salt Lake valley radio station, and the John R. Park Debate Society at the University of Utah to sponsor five legislative debates.
Unfortunately, all of our work to open civic engagement and hold legislative debates reached a tenuous position this past week when the Utah GOP chairman, James Evans, sent an edict to our five Republican legislative candidates telling them they should not participate in these debates. His sole reason for shutting the door on public debate? Our involvement.
That’s right, James Evans doesn’t like Alliance for a Better UTAH. But the truth is, rather than impact our organization, Evans’ fear-mongering feeds the distrust and dislike of politics and politicians in general.
James Evans is why people hate politics. The divisiveness, the negativity, the vitriol–all the things that turn people off politics and keep them away from the polls.
About 30 seconds after Evans sent his email, Bruce Cutler, GOP candidate for open House District 44, sent us a short email saying he wouldn’t be able to participate.
Why would a candidate be afraid to engage in a political debate against his opponent? And worse, why would the state chair of either party discourage such debate?
Our three organizations went to great lengths to assure these debates would be unbiased and fair. The reason for including the John R. Park Debate Society is because they are beyond reproach. Tasking them with the sole responsibility for the debate format, questions and moderating was a strategic decision to assure candidates and voters alike of the objectivity of these debates.
Yet James Evans sent his email and at least one candidate jumped at his chairman’s words rather than consider the needs of the voters in his district.
Fortunately, people can see through Evans’ divisive tactics, even his own candidates. One Republican candidate told me to “ignore James’ email, I’m still in.”
The debates will go on. Three debates are confirmed with all participants and the fourth is coming together.
Open and honest debate is the cornerstone of democracy. We need more debates not fewer. Candidates should not fear facing their prospective voters and stating their positions on the issues, they should not fear disagreement. People with different experiences and perspectives, coming together to discuss issues and looking for better ways to solve problems should be applauded not dissuaded. It is, afterall, the American way.