Democrat Andrae McGary wants to debate Todd Gardenhire, his Republican opponent in November's race for the 10th District Tennessee Senate seat. Democrat challenger Mary Headrick wants to debate Chuck Fleischmann, the incumbent Republican occupant of Tennessee's 3rd District seat in the U.S. Congress. Democrat Eric Stewart wants to debate Scott DesJarlais, the incumbent Republican who holds Tennessee's 4th District congressional seat. The requests for debate are reasonable and should be honored. In politics, though, candidates -- and the electorate -- don't always get what they want.
Perhaps Gardenhire, Fleischmann and DesJarlais all have referred to a candidate handbook that instructs Republican nominees to avoid face-to-face debates with opponents in voting districts with heavy GOP majorities. Maybe the Republicans arrogantly assume that incumbency and/or name recognition excuses them from the necessity of facing voters to explain or defend their policies in a community setting.
Gardenhire, Fleischmann and DesJarlais, united by party and obvious fear of debate, offer a variety of excuses for their intrasnsigence.
Gardenhire, for instance, initially told Times Free Press reporter Chris Carroll that he'd not heard about an emailed invitation to a Sept. 27 event from the Chattanooga Voter Empowerment Group. He changed his tune when told the newspaper had a copy of the invitation. He admitted "an oversight" and said he'll attend the debate. The question, of course, is whether he would have done so had his neglect not been publicly exposed.
It's not the first time Gardenhire has blamed his failure to respond to a debate invitation on an oversight. Last month, a Chattanooga-based Libertarian group invited both McGary and Gardenhire to a debate via their Facebook pages. McGary responded promptly and affirmatively. Organizers never heard from Gardenhire.
The reason? Gardenhire said that he had not checked his campaign Facebook account since the Aug. 2 primary and that "making contact with somebody isn't the same thing as sending a Facebook message." That's putting a positive spin on a statement that will gain little traction when a growing segment of the population -- voters included -- routinely uses the social media.
Besides, if Facebook is not a viable means of communication, as Gardenhire implies, why did his campaign have an account? And if it had an account, why hadn't it been checked in weeks? Perhaps Gardenhire will answer that at the Aug. 27 debate -- if he shows up.
Fleischmann and DesJarlais are far more practiced than Gardenhire at avoiding debate. Both made an art of avoidance in 2010 and are providing repeat performances this year. Fleischmann surprisingly has agreed to appear with other candidates at a forum in Bradley County on Oct. 8, perhaps because such a venue is unlikely to provide the setting for the full-fledged debate that Headrick and district voters deserve. Fleischmann still won't agree to a series of face-to-face debates.
DesJarlais is even more cavalier. He simply dismisses requests from his challenger to set times and places for debates. It is obvious that both DesJarlais and Fleischmann prefer to remain in the shadows rather than allow public debate about the flawed policies and shortcomings that have marked their initial terms in office. That might be good politics, but it's unfair to Stewart and to district voters accustomed to using debates to help form an opinion about a candidate and his views.
Gardenhire, Fleischmann and DesJarlais refuse or are extraordinarily reluctant to provide voters with the opportunity to see and hear them in a pressure-packed debate. Candidates who treat the electorate in such a condescending manner and the party that apparently condones such high-handed behavior deserve rejection at the polls.