March 2, 2014

Voters deserve to hear candidates debate

The Daily Citizen

— A few weeks ago we lamented in this space that the political parties are ignoring this corner of the state by not scheduling any candidates’ debates in the region.

Now it appears neither party is willing to push its candidates to confront each other.

The state Republican Party did schedule seven debates around the state for its handful of hopefuls seeking the party nod to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Saxby Chambliss, but not a one was in northwest Georgia. (Kennesaw was as close as they got).

There’s also a race for governor this year, but not one debate has been scheduled as yet in either party.

For the less-crowded Democratic Party slate, their strategy seems to be throwing support behind the strongest front-runner in both the Senate and governor races. In those instances the Democrats have two candidates with strong name recognition, if only because of blood.

State Sen. Jason Carter, grandson of former governor and president Jimmy Carter, is the favorite to take the gubernatorial nomination. And Michelle Nunn, daughter of a retired and respected U.S. senator, Sam Nunn, who is running for the Senate, will probably be on the ballot in November.

On the Republican side in the governor’s race, there are two viable candidates running against incumbent Nathan Deal — Dalton Mayor David Pennington and state School Superintendent John Barge. Both challengers are willing to participate in a debate. As head of the state party, Deal has final word over scheduling debates and there’s no sign he will agree to one.

It’s not unusual for an incumbent, with a huge built-in advantage, to avoid events that would bring attention to a challenger. But declining to debate is wrong. It shows a fundamental disrespect for the democratic system and ultimately for voters.

Both parties are at fault for not scheduling more debates. The purpose of political debates is for the voting public to learn more about the candidates, how they respond under pressure and what they are offering to their own party as they seek support for the nomination — and how that might be reworked when the general election arrives.

Georgians deserve to hear from those seeking to represent them. And debates help clarify the choice for voters.

The primary is May 20. A runoff, which is likely in the GOP Senate contest, would follow in July.