Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Jay Williams says Senator John Thune “has told Dakotafest sponsor IDEAg Group that he has no plans to debate this year.” The way Williams words that sentence, he appears to be saying Thune has rejected debating not just at Dakotafest but at any venue during this election cycle.
Naturally, Williams is incensed:
There are major issues challenging the United States and South Dakota. Senator Thune has a responsibility to debate me and tell the voters of South Dakota his views on these issues. The voters of South Dakota deserve to hear how the incumbent Senator and his challenger stand on the issues.
Senator Thune has voted repeatedly to repeal the Affordable Care Act. This in spite of the fact that the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA), the cornerstone legal authority for the provision of health care to American Indians and Alaska Natives, was made permanent as part of the Affordable Care Act….
We differ on how to address the income inequality in our country and on the importance of eliminating fossil fuels as our source of energy. Senator Thune needs to explain why he endorses the racist, self professed greedy real estate mogul, Donald Trump for President. Let’s have a series of debates to discuss these and other issues important to South Dakota voters [Jay Williams, press release, 2016.07.14].
If Senator Thune really intends to skip all debates, he deserves the same criticism that I leveled at Senator Tim Johnson when he dodged all debates in 2008:
…[D]ebates are still important. Two candidates from opposing parties, occupying the same stage, answering the same questions, interacting with each other, represent the community-wide discussion we all should engage in at every election. Beyond that important symbolism, debates are the traditional practical yardstick we have developed to measure our candidates’ abilities. Public debates do measure the ability of candidates to think on their feet, to marshal facts and figures from memory, and to defend their positions under pressure, all important abilities for a public official. To decline to debate is to deny the voters an opportunity to take that measure [CAH, “Debate Coach Blues: Senator Johnson Dodges Dykstra,” Madville Times, 2008.08.09].
Voters deserve debates. We should see our candidates on the same stage, facing us and each other as equals, and discussing real issues. To dodge debates only deepens the misconception that Republicans and Democrats can’t talk to each other.