Letter from LWV to Kent Baker, KHON-TV2
of Women Voters
October 18, 1990
Mr. Kent Baker
1170 Auahi Street
Honolulu, HI 96814
Dear Mr. Baker:
Thank you for your fax of 10/16/90. I do hope you are feeling slightly less dyspeptic now. While I won't respond to your opinions, I do feel compelled to respond to the factual errors.
Let us start with the facto surrounding the debate events of 1986.. I was President of the State League then and very much involved in those activities.
In.1986 the League of Women Voters of Hawaii planned three debates: one for the Democratic and Republican candidates running for the First Congressional district seat vacated by Cec Heftel, one for the candidates running in the Democratic primary race, for governor, and one for candidates in the general election race for governor.
(1) The 1986 debate for the First Congressional district was to have been televised on KHON-TV pursuant to our agreement with your station but was cancelled due to Pat Saiki's refusal to debate without the Libertarian candidate. Please refer to the Jack Kellner letter to the Star Bulletin, September 17, 1986 which is enclosed. At no time during the work on this debate did difficulties arise with KHON-TV: by all accounts, our working relationship was a good one.
(2) As for the Democratic-gubernatorial primary debate, this was held at the KHET-Channel 11 studios and broadcast on that station. At no time did we work directly with KHON on this event. See the articles of August 15 (Advertiser) and September 10 enclosed.
Those participating in that debate were Cec Heftel, John Waihee, Patsy Mink, Tony Hodges, Paul Snider and William "Billy" Kuaiwa. Please see the Honolulu Advertiser editorial dated September 12, 1986.
You refer to this event in the following terms: "The result, engineered by the League, was a laughing stock, in which a half-dozen fringe candidates who happened to be on the ballot monopolized the entire debate at the expense of the two or three legitimate candidates." The fact is that a total of six candidates took part. While many would agree with you that three of those could be considered "fringe", I doubt that former Representative Heftel, Governor Waihee and Representative Mink would appreciate being counted in your "half-dozen fringe."
May I also point out that we had a strict format with timekeepers and that no candidate "monopolized" the debate.
We'd be the first to admit that that program had its moments of high humor and thinking back to the evening does bring chuckles. But isn't it interesting that both the Advertiser and Star-Bulletin generally praised the LWV for putting on that event. See the Advertiser editorials of September 12 and August 9, 1986 and the Star Bulletin editorial of September 11, 1986.
As you no doubt know, holding pre-primary debates runs the risk of including "fringe" candidates. Clearly, your planning for the Second Congressional Republican primary (which was broadcast) and the First Congressional Republican primary (which did not materialize) included such a consideration. This issue (as well as inclusion of minor party candidates) also comes into play for general election debates. See recent Advertiser editorial/October 11, 1990.
(3) The League's debate for the general election gubernatorial candidates was held at Mamiya Theatre with John Waihee and Andy Anderson participating. For that event, we worked closely with KIID14 which offered the opportunity for other stations to pool (an offer taken up by KGMB, KITV and KHET.) See article of October 12, 1986 enclosed.
Although for the most part the newspaper articles reviewing this debate stuck to the usual unhelpful language of "was this really a debate, " I think it only fair to say that the event was a success we can all be proud of, including the lead station, KHON.
Our recollection of the working relationship between the LWV and KHON on that event is one of good feelings for at no time did we get a hint that KHON was unhappy with the arrangements. In fact, when we subsequently planned a series of public service announcements celebrating the bicentennial c the US Constitution, KHON was the first station we approached. As far as we are aware, KHON's agreement to work with us in producing and airing those spots was based on a friendly and professional relationship; the results received many compliments for both our organizations. See letter to A. Lee from J. Kellner dated February 2, 1988.
(4) At no time in our 10/15/90 press release or public comments, did we say that the League was the only organization that could sponsor debates. The issues we raised are not new or easily dismissed. To refresh your memory, those issues are:
- Should those agencies charged with covering the news he in the business of making the news?
- Can organizations that endorse candidates be viewed as honest brokers of candidate forums?
In fact, this last issue, was raised only four years ago with the Honolulu Advertiser.
As the LWV was planning for the 1986 gubernatorial debates there was a suggestion that the Advertiser co-sponsor. The League's 1986 Debate Steering Committee held a meeting with Gerry Keir and Philip Gialanella to discuss this possibility. I recall very vividly, because I was the one to put the question, asking the two whether we could be assured that their endorsements would not come prior to any debate we co-sponsored. We never received that assurance because the Advertiser decided that they did not want to co-sponsor.
This concern was not a frivolous one. We don't know how one can explain to those candidates running in the Second Congressional Republican primary that on the morning of their September 16, 1990 debate, the Advertiser endorsed Mr. Poepoe. We wonder how one can build confidence in other candidates (as well as the voters) that this won't happen in the future. We wonder how one can build confidence in candidates and voters that no bias exists if a candidate, whose opponent was endorsed, wins a primary and is then invited to participate in a pre-general election event.
We do know that the appearance of a possible conflict of interest can be a negative influence on the voters as well as candidates.
Hopefully before the next election season, we can all get together in the interest of the voters and figure out a better way to bring the candidates before Hawaii's citizens. In fact, that is what we tried to do two years ago (February 2, 1988) when we held a Conference on Debates in Hawaii which Jack Kellner, Al Hoffman and Gerry Keir attended (as it turns out, only a few days prior to your announcement with the Advertiser of co-sponsored debates).
Anne F. Lee
1990 Debates Coordinator
cc: Jack Kellner, KHON
Gerry Keir, Advertiser
Sandra Duckworth, LWV/Hawaii President