Democrat Kristin Collum may hail from the Great State of Ada, but she showed up in Idaho Falls on Friday at what was supposed to be a debate with her opponent in the lieutenant governor’s race, Janice McGeachin.
McGeachin, the Republican nominee and a local business owner, wasn’t there.
Instead, it appears she’s on her way to a meet-and-greet her campaign is throwing in Coeur d’Alene. Maybe she thinks the votes in eastern Idaho are already sewn up, so her hometown constituents can be safely brushed off.
“After last night, she’s probably afraid,” Collum said, referring to their Idaho Public Television debate the night before. “But I honor my commitments.”
There’s been an emerging pattern of debate ducking in this election cycle. It shows disregard and contempt for voters.
Superintendent Sherri Ybarra has ducked at least two debates. Like McGeachin, she had a chance to show voters what she’s made of at a planned Idaho Falls City Club debate earlier this month. But only her opponent, Cindy Wilson, showed up. Ybarra also ducked a debate hosted by Idaho Education News. Wilson was there.
Candidates have an obligation to show up for debates and be challenged by their constituents.
Debates are a truer test of a candidate than their ability to hold fundraisers, purchase ads or recite rehearsed speeches on the stump. They get questions they weren’t expecting, and they have to react on their toes.
Watch closely how they react, and you get an idea of how they think on their feet, how they handle stress and what they value. Voters can take a candidate’s measure in a way that’s not possible in other parts of the campaign process.
To their credit, Gary Marshall and David Lent, both local Republican legislative candidates, will appear at upcoming debates held by the League of Women Voters. They aren’t afraid of hard questions.
It’s uncertain at present whether incumbents Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, and Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, will appear at similar debates. They should.
Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, provides an example worth following. He showed up at a debate put on by the League of Women Voters in Rexburg earlier this month. Perhaps because it was the first time the league had organized a debate in Madison County, attendance was very light.
Hill and his Democratic opponent, Robert Nielsen, appeared in front of about a dozen constituents and answered every question the voters cared to ask for an hour. Some of them were quite pointed.
Hill is overwhelmingly popular in his district, which may be the reddest in this red state. He has beaten every challenger he ever faced by at least a 50-point margin. He doesn’t need a debate to win votes. If he wanted to, he could have ducked that debate without any consequences.
His decision to appear shows that Hill understands the responsibility he has to the voters who put him in office. He knows his seat in the Senate does not belong to him but to the people who placed him in it.
Candidates who fail to show up demonstrate that they haven’t grasped this truth.