The Great Debate That Wasn’t

Larry Price
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Wednesday - July 12, 2006
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I guess the less influence one has, the longer one has to wait. In the case of taxpaying voters waiting for someone, anyone, to arrange a debate between the candidates for the open congressional seat in the 2nd District - it does-n’t look like it’s going to happen.

How are we supposed to vote in the primary election just around the corner? It’s a tradition in Hawaii for people running for office to bare the platforms, programs, agendas and style publicly to demonstrate their political and oratorical skills.

The reason the taxpayers are being denied their right to a debate by the candidates is because no one wants the responsibility of staging such an event. People I have talked with say the reason is there are too many candidates and no one can agree on what format to use.

It’s hard to believe none of the television stations, none of the radio stations, even Olelo and the vaunted Public Broadcasting (PBS) are not interested. These television stations are quite amazing when it comes to putting together program packages for just about every occasion, but balk at a debate with a dozen candidates.

The advantage to the candidates is questionable. On one hand, it’s an opportunity for the candidates to publicly state their platforms and let the public compare them against the other candidates. On the other, this is not an advantage if the candidate has nothing politically intelligent to put forward. The old saying, “a silent fool is often judged as a wise one,” makes good sense in this case.

To make matters worse, the word is that name recognition is the most important issue for candidates. Without it, victory is dependent on the ability to manipulate the voters in the chosen district. In the case of the 2nd Congressional District, it is disconnected and spread over all the Neighbor Islands. Having a debate on each island is not practical. So the obvious question is, “If a potential candidate does not have name recognition, how are they supposed to run successfully for a congressional seat?” They could use radio and print media, but that would cost them a lot of money.

What the candidates are waiting for is someone to give them free broadcast time, and that does-n’t look like it’s going to happen. That leaves the candidates with the ugly prospect of paying for their ads on a number of broadcast outlets and in at least a dozen print media.

The bottom line is, and has been for many years: In political elections money is the root of all evil and politicians need roots - lots of roots.

So how will the best candidate be elected in the 2nd Congressional District? Simply put, the best candidate will not be elected. The candidate with the best understanding of the district’s voting tendencies will probably win the primary. After that, just about everyone who chirps about the need for debates will want to have exclusive rights to broadcast the show. The problem is the debate in a general election will be after the fact, or said another way, too simple to be important.

Once again the voters in the 2nd Congressional District have earned the right to be cynical, but as long as the voters in this rural district allow themselves to be treated like political dummies, it seems they will be destined to get what they deserve.

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