Thursday, September 21, 2006

We Need Real Debates with Dissenting Voices Included

I have just invited the other New York Attorney General candidates: Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic Party candidate, Christopher Garvey, the Libertarian Party candidate, Martin Koppel, the Socialist Workers Party candidate and Jeanine Pirro, the Republican Party candidate, to join me in a series of debates this fall.

Including all the candidates on the ballot in the attorney general debates will increase voter interest in the election, and will raise voter turnout in November. It is well documented that wider debates generate wider enthusiasm among voters. In 1992, when Ross Perot was included in the presidential debates, they were viewed by 90 million people, with the audience growing in each successive debate. In 1996, with Mr. Perot excluded, viewership collapsed, averaging only 41 million people. Voter turnout that November nosedived, too. In 1998 in Minnesota, participation by Reform Party candidate Jesse Ventura in the gubernatorial debates stirred interest in the campaign and generated massive voter turnout.

It is particularly important that voters learn about all the candidates in New York's attorney general race this fall. This election is the last election New York will conduct on its lever voting machines. The next Attorney General needs to take legal action to block the use of unconstitutional voting equipment and make sure that the right of each New York voter to vote and to have his or her vote counted is protected. A poll reported in late August 2006 by Rasmussen Reports found that voters in New York are more likely than voters in any other state to express a concern about voter suppression. Thirty-four percent (34%) of the New York voters surveyed hold this view. We need an attorney general who will make protecting our right to free and fair elections his or her top priority. Neither Cuomo or Pirro has addressed this issue. New Yorkers need to hear the candidates' views on this issue.

We need dissenting voices to create real debate. When third party candidates are excluded from debates, the major party candidates are shielded from addressing issues the public wants debated. Many of the issues New Yorkers care most about -- the war in Iraq, the expanding prison/industrial complex, the poisoning of our environment, and corporate domination of our elections -- have been ignored by both Cuomo and Pirro. To a growing number of New Yorkers, it is not coincidental that the larger campaign contributors to both candidates benefit from ignoring such issues. With third party candidates excluded, the debates become glorified bipartisan news conferences, in which the candidates exchange memorized soundbites. Genuine debates provide a rare opportunity to hear candidates' ideas unedited and in context.

Polls show that many Americans do not identify as Republicans or Democrats. In a survey conducted of 15,000 voters during April 2006, Rasmussen Reports found that just 32.7% of Americans identified themselves as Republicans, 36.3% identified as Democrats and 30.9% identified themselves as unaffiliated with either major party. Policies that exclude all candidates from candidate debates except Republicans and Democrats are not reflective of voter opinions and desires.

I have spoken with people around the state eager to have more voices in the Attorney General debates this fall. Various civic and media groups have told me of their interest in sponsoring debates in which all the candidates are included. The League of Women Voters has not invited third party candidates to join their debates for the general election this fall. The League claims to be nonpartisan and acting in the interests of voter education, but those claims don't seem to mean anything when it comes to organizing debates.

No comments: