From the President
(The Massachusetts Voter)
Debates negotiations with the campaigns heated up during the summer months. Gubernatorial candidates buckled under the enormous pressure of the media to boycott League preprimary debates. The reason ostensibly was that the League gave WBZ-TV the exclusive rights to cover the entire series of eight debates we planned, not just the "hot" contests.
Gubernatorial candidates have debated throughout this campaign under exclusive arrangements with all the television stations, major newspapers and at forums sponsored by single inter-est groups.
We were advised back in February by the general manager of one television station that he would see to it that candidates did not debate under League sponsorship. Maybe we were naive not to recognize the formidability of such a warning by a major media outlet.
Certainly as I look back at the preprimary campaigning, I can see the jockeying for position by print and television media. The media fight for the spotlight, form alliances to conduct polls and other election-related dealings. It is hard to believe that all this goes on only in the name of public service.
A gubernatorial campaign aide speculated that his candidate wasn't getting good coverage an a certain television station because he had not yet agreed to debate on that station. Candidates have to be concerned about how they will be portrayed on the news, which sound bites will be highlighted, how much time their opponents will get, and who will be represented in the most favorable light.
Can the League play on the same field with the media that wield such power or the perception of such power?
What kind of pressure can the League of Women Voters bring to bear? Would our members not vote if candidates refuse to participate in League sponsored debates? Of course not! League members are committed to participation in the political process. They would never trivialize their right to vote.
The debates business is out of hand. Some local newspapers and cable stations hold debates for state-wide offices. Invitations are often received at the last minute and routed to the wrong person in the campaign. Then if a prior engagement prevents a candidate from attending, an empty chair debate is held. Candidates feel that the debate was a "bag job," just to make them look bad.
When any call to debate comes, must the candidate respond?
New Jersey has made nonpartisan gubernatorial debates part of election law. The law requires two pre-primary and two pre-election gubernatorial debates for candidates receiving public financing. Debates are sponsored by private organizations not affiliated with any political party or candidate or holder of public off-ice. The sponsoring organization must not have endorsed any candidate in the primary or general election.
The New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission receives applications from eligible organizations. and sponsorship is decided in an open and fair process, trying to have each debate sponsored by a different organization. The sponsoring organization selects the date, time and location of the debate and sets the rules in consultation with the candidates.
Just think -- no more last minute refusals to debate, no more hold outs by front runners, no more demands by - parties to control and manipulate debates. Sounds like a breath of fresh air'
The League of Women Voters has brought candidates debates to the forefront of the election process. Starting with local candidates nights and proceeding up to presidential debates. We have shown others the value of these interactive exchanges which are now an integral part of the political landscape. There is so much more for the League to do to break new ground in the area of voters service.
As difficult and exasperating as debates dealings have been at times, we have found a loyal partner in Bank of Boston. The people we work with at the bank are an extraordinary group. Their willingness to stand with us has been impressive. As League Debates '90 underwriter, they also took a lot of heat from the media. They stood by their agreement.
Needless to say, because the League of Women Voters always conducts itself with principle, integrity and commitment to its word, having a partner that shares those ideals, as Bank of Boston does, is a perfect match.