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Chron wants multiple multi-candidate debates

Don’t know if they’ll get what they want, but it can’t hurt to ask.

For the main show, mayoral candidate Ben Hall has called for six one-on-one debates with Mayor Annise Parker, albeit with three debates after early voting begins. Parker has rejected Hall’s proposal, agreeing only to one debate featuring multiple candidates.

Houston’s future is too important to limit the mayor’s race to one debate, and we’re far too diverse to restrict debates to an incumbent and a self-funded millionaire challenger. Putting multiple candidates on stage will provide a panoply of perspectives and a constructive conversation about our city’s needs. Municipal issues don’t always make for the most exciting discussions, but the horse-race atmosphere of elections provides a more compelling backdrop for topics like the city budget.

While we hope Ben Hall will use the debates to explain why he is spending his personal fortune on an uphill battle to unseat the mayor, the time for one-on-one debates is during a runoff. The general election should provide voters with multiple options for what our future will look like. Whether the race for mayor, controller or city council seats, voters are best served when candidates debate the issues and define what it means to be a city that is building forever.

See here for the background. It’s hardly clear to me that having candidates beyond Mayor Parker and Ben Hall in a debate will yield a “constructive conversation”. The candidates not named Parker or Hall would have to be running constructive campaigns for there to be some chance of that happening, and so far the evidence for that is lacking. The principle of democracy argues in favor of inclusiveness, but the principle of imparting useful information to as many voters as possible argues for limiting the debate to those that have something useful to say. Let whatever organizations that want to sponsor debates make their own decisions about who they want to invite, let Parker and Hall agree to abide by their decisions, and leave it at that. Campos has more.

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2 Comments

  1. PDiddie says:

    The Chron is right, and you — and Campos — are simply wrong with regard to excluding candidates from debates. Specifically, these two false premises…

    1. “The candidates not named Parker or Hall would have to be running constructive campaigns for there to be some chance of that happening”

    They are. There is evidence of this. I will point you toward it if you would like. But the premise dodges the fact that political debates contain a measure of judging and yes, criticizing the incumbent’s record. That is both necessary and useful.

    2. “the principle of imparting useful information to as many voters as possible argues for limiting the debate to those that have something useful to say”

    I am unfamiliar with this “principle”, but it certainly seems dismissive and even haughty. For starters, who determines whether something a mayoral candidate says is ‘useful’? The consultants? The insiders? The people who write big checks?

    That would not be the definition of democracy from my dictionary.

    Paying the filing fee (or submitting the necessary signatures) ought to be enough to be included. You are, however, right when you say the people sponsoring the debates can invite and include whomever they choose. Those doing the inviting would then be out of line not inviting everybody who is an official candidate.

    Campos’ opinion in this matter is even more worthless than his usual, and I’m surprised and disappointed that you are standing next to him.

  2. “Paying the filing fee (or submitting the necessary signatures) ought to be enough to be included.”

    James Partsch-Galvan still runs for office occasionally. One can only imagine what he’d add to a debate.

    I am not arguing for exclusion. I’m not comfortable with drawing arbitrary lines. But that doesn’t mean that I think an all-inclusive debate is automatically more enlightening and a better use of time than a less-inclusive debate. It’ll be noisier and more entertaining in a political theater sense, and I agree that’s more democratic. But that sounds like “The Capital Gang” to me, and what I want is more along the lines of “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report”.

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