In 2006, a young upstart Democrat challenged an entrenched Republican incumbent in Minnesota’s First District. Other than a chance occasion when a voter would catch the incumbent at a County Fair, there were not a lot of opportunities for independent voters to question the Congressman and compare answers from the challenger who had been criss-crossing the District meeting the voters and responding to their concerns. Then KSTP offered a series — Tom Hauser’s Debates and Candidate Conversation’s program – where he would bring the major party candidates who would sit down for an open joint discussion. Tim Walz, the Democrat challenger appeared … but Gil Gutknecht, the Republican incumbent, turned down the request. Mr. Hauser, and I believe a news reporter from the Austin area, ended up spending a half hour discussing the issues with Tim Walz. The program made quite an impression … Walz was articulate, knowledgeable and friendly. He earned my vote that day … and I suspect other viewers.
Mr. Gutknecht must have realized that he made a mistake because eventually he filmed a segment with Mr. Houser. I still laugh at Gutknecht’s interview with Mr. Hauser in the Meet the Candidates profile because instead discussing the issues of the day, Mr. Gutknecht discussed steroids in baseball and his boyhood memories of Harmon Killerbrew … it told this voter that Mr. Gutknecht had lost touch with Minnesota’s needs.
Fast Forward to 2010 … another upstart Democrat challenging an entrenched Republican incumbent … but now in the Second District.
Once again, the entrenched incumbent is rarely seen in the District … oh sure, he makes Republican Party events … but what about meeting the general public where a voter could ask why Congress is continually approving military programs that the Pentagon does not want or transportation needs in the District that need funding ?
Once again, up steps KSTP’s Tom Hauser, this time with the League of Women Voters, who have proposed a televised debate for October 2nd … one month before the election. Now, even though Congress is not scheduled to be in session the incumbent John Kline (R) has declined the invitation.
Instead the only opening that Mr. Kline has on his schedule for a joint session with DFL candidate Shelley Madore will be on MPR’s “Midday” with Gary Eichten from 11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Oct. 26 … a scant week before the election … and assuming a news break at the top of the hour, it will be less than thirty minutes.
This is beyond an annoyance … this is insult to democracy. Voters should have the opportunity to see the candidates on stage … answering questions from a range of sources (yes some from the media, but why not some from the audience) … instead this will a radio broadcast with the radio host who may ask questions that the candidates too often ignore in favor of launching into scripted, poll-tested answers that have little to do with the real issues that impact the Second District (you know, an attack on the process — “earmarks” — instead of debating the outcome and the difference between “real need” and “pet projects”).
Voters deserve to hear unscripted responses … from the heart not from the politician’s playbook. That’s the best way to get a true evaluation … by side-by-side comparisons … and seeing their faces reaction to the other’s comments.
Shelley Madore has objected to Mr. Kline’s response : “We have somebody who is sitting in office right now that has significantly ignored the needs of the district, and the problem is that the citizens are confused by policy statements that John Kline supports certain bills and then he turns around and doesn’t fund those policies.”
“What is Mr. Kline doing that is more important than allowing voters to hear from both candidates so they can make an informed decision? Running for public office requires a job interview with every voter in your district. Congressman Kline seems to assume he will be rehired for his public service job without having to answer to his constituents about his past performance.”
Shelley Madore is right … it’s shameful … a disservice to the voters of the Second District.
Mr. Kline’s campaign has responded :
“In the coming weeks, Congressman Kline will help alleviate their concerns by working with candidates across the nation who share his commitment to empowering the American people – not the federal government – and restoring fiscal discipline in Washington. Congressman Kline is continuing to address the wide variety of issues important to the men and women of the 2nd Congressional district. He looks forward to continuing his ongoing dialogue with his constituents in the coming weeks and engaging in an open exchange of ideas with his opponent at the Minnesota Public Radio debate set for next month.”
GREAT … it sounds like Mr. Kline is so entrenched in Washington that he will support “candidates across the nation” instead of talking to the voters in the Second District.
In 2008, there were three debates for Second District voters to see and hear the candidates plus one MPR joint appearance … for all the talk of Freedom and Liberty that is banted about these days, let’s us remember it has been said that “The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man” yet what good does it do to have the Right to Free Speech, if Congressman Kline refuses to accept questions ?
Mr. Kline instead will use television advertising and direct communications through mailings and social media to engage his supporters … but what about the general public … what about the unaffliated voters ?
This not the first time that Mr. Kline has rejected open discussions … Tim Walz tried unsuccessful to have joint appearances to discuss healthcare legislation … Mr. Kline refused. Shelley Madore (along with Tim Walz and various other Republican and Democrats) particiapted in the FarmFest debate … but Mr. Kline refused.
Mr. Kline, there is no excuse for your absence. However, if Mr. Kline continues to refuse, then let’s hope the League of Women Voters and KSTP invite Shelley Madore for a solo appearance … the voters have a right to hear her plans.