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Feb 1987

Debates that Were (Dee Dee Letts)
Debate that Wasn't (Janet Mason & Jeanne Trebor-MacConnell)
President's Column (Anne Lee)
Program Planning
Water Resources in 1986 Legislature (Kiyoko Nitz)
1987 State Convention
Choices
Bringing Star Wars Down to Earth
Mahalo Channel 11
1986-1987 LWV/Hawaii Calendar
Nominees Wanted
State Board Tape (Muriel Roberts)
LWVEF Thanks the Following For Making Our Debates Possible
National Studies
ABC Election Reporting
Mahalo Channel 2
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President's Column

Webster's dictionary defines debate as, "1. to discuss opposing reasons, argue; 2. to take part in a formal discussion or a contest in which opposing sides of question are argued." While I hesitate to take exception to such an authority at Webster, I am finding that I have a more comprehensive definition. Debate: 1. a challenge; 2. a lengthy planning process involving at minimum --many meetings, much correspondence, considerable financial costs, fundraising, careful consideration of policy, making some decisions quickly, negotiations, compromises, candidates, candidate staff, TV cameras, panel members, moderators, standing firm, and most importantly, the public. Upon reflection, even this definition does not do justice to what is involved in a League debate.

While I do not have the space to comment on all parts of my definition, I do want to highlight two. First, the challenge. Leaguers know from the very beginning that it is an uphill battle to bring off a successful debate. All parties involved have concerns and interests which they want to protect; these must be taken into account all along the way. The League cannot just plan a debate in a vacuum, announce the plan, and expect everyone else to simply go along and fall into place at the last moment.

This brings me to the other part of the definition -- negotiations. One of the strengths that the League brings to any debate project is our clear under-standing that negotiations must take place with other participants; give and take must be a part of the process. And, we are well equipped for this since we get lots of practice through our consensus process which is so fundamental to the League.

When we begin our plans our aim is to have the project finished -- i.e., to present to the largest possible audience a program where political candidates answer questions posed by individuals not of their choosing and in a setting which they do not control. But this cannot be accomplished without taking into account some concerns the candidates might have. To simply hand candidates a complete debate plan and say, "well, here it is, you'd better like it" would only invite disaster.

Over the past months we worked on three debate projects: a primary debate for Democratic gubernatorial candidates; a general election First Congressional District debate; and a general election gubernatorial debate. In all three projects the Leaguers: listened to the candidates and/or staff respond to pro-posed plans; brought back the concerns to other Leaguers working on the project; reviewed what was negotiable and non-negotiable; returned to the candidates for further discussion; and offered compromises based on what was negotiable.

Let me give you a hypothetical example of the type of thing which a League might consider negotiable. Suppose the League feels that each candidate should get five minutes to answer each question. Suppose this is presented to the candi-dates as part of the proposed format but either one or both candidates think this is not a good idea (i.e., they suggest the audience will get bored, turn off the TV or go to the kitchen for a beer while they are talking). Suppose then the candidate(s) make a counter proposal --make each answer two minutes. Does the League take a hard stand and say no, thus risking the refusal of a candidate to participate over this? I think most would agree that here is an area that is best compromised on.

How about non-negotiable items: date, time, place, whether there will be a panel of questioners and how many on the panel, and criteria for determining candidate participation. These are areas where a League may reasonably decide there can be no negotiation. Of course, there is still the risk of a candidate refusing to participate because of one such area -- but remember, we began fully aware this would be a challenge.

In the case of the gubernatorial debates, we were fortunate that the candidates did not balk at any of the things we considered non-negotiable. Unfortunately, the congressional debate ran into a roadblock. The planned debate between Democrat Mufi Hannemann and Republican Patricia Saiki was cancelled because Saiki refused to debate unless we changed one of the things we strongly felt was non-negotiable. This was the criteria we had set up months ago to determine which candidates would participate; criteria established when we had no idea who would be running. As it turned out the Libertarian candidate, Blase Harris, did not meet the criteria and Saiki insisted on his participation as a condition for her participation. Interestingly enough, Saiki has not insisted on this condition for all the other public forums she has participated in on TV or elsewhere.

Determining non-negotiable items and sticking by them adds strength to the League's credibility as the premier non-partisan sponsor of political debates. Negotiating on some items helps ensure that candidates feel that they are a part of the process and that they participate. Standing firm on non-negotiable items is not a weakness -- rather, it demonstrates that there are some things that are so fundamental to our goal that we will not compromise.

The last few months have been an exciting time for LWV/Hawaii and have brought recognition and distinction to it. I am pleased that I was' lucky enough to be a part. All the Leaguers (and friends of the League) who contributed to the three projects are to be congratulated for their devotion and commitment.

Anne Lee


LEO HANA is a publication produced by the League of Women Voters Hawaii

Anne Lee - President

Jeanne Trebor-MacConnell - Vice President

Tisha Hickson - Secretary

Vicki Zaleski - Treasurer, Evelyn Bender

Muriel R. Roberts, Dee Dee Lefts

Marion Saunders, Marian Hatton, Libby 0shiyama

Guest Editor for this issue of Leo Hana is Evelyn Bender.

LWV/Hawaii Board Travel is courtesy of Aloha Airlines.

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