Debating a debate - The Explorer: Editorials

Debating a debate

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Posted: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:15 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

The Explorer is making minor political news this week because we've been attempting to put together a one-on-one debate between the two candidates for Arizona Senate in District 26, incumbent Republican Sen. Al Melvin and Democrat Cheryl Cage.

It's not going well.

We don't care who wins the Melvin-Cage race in November. Let's repeat that. We don't care who wins. What we do care about is that voters have good information upon which to make decisions. And we believe a debate not sponsored by some interest group would best inform those decisions.

Toward that end, on July 9, this writer sent both candidates an e-mail — simultaneously, of course — asking if they would participate in a debate sponsored by and moderated by the newspaper, a date, place, terms and conditions to be determined.

They said "yes." And the fun hasn't stopped.

Finding a place for the debate proved more difficult than expected. In an attempt to secure what we consider neutral, accessible, adequate space, we set out for a theater at a Northwest school within the Amphitheater School District. We couldn't find one. The Marana Unified School District was accommodating, offering the theater at Mountain View High School on Sept. 30. All seemed good.

After being informed of the site, Melvin expressed reservations. Though it is within the legislative district, Mountain View is much distant from his base of power, SaddleBrooke and near the Oracle corridor. And, we suspect, Melvin fears some ambush at MVHS by the teachers' associations. It's no secret the education "community" has identified District 26 as pivotal.

Melvin has suggested four alternative sites — Basis, the new charter school in Oro Valley; the Oro Valley Town Council chambers; the Northwest campus of Pima Community College; and the Northwest YMCA. In fact, people from Basis have e-mailed just now, expressing interest in hosting.

Beyond the site, Melvin said he wants the field to include all five candidates seeking election in District 26, to include the three people running for two House seats. We've not wanted to do that, from the beginning, for several reasons.

Initially, the House race was a "Clean Elections" race, which means that organization would have sponsored a debate. When Wade McLean lost in the Republican primary, that left three remaining "traditionally" funded candidates, and, hence, no Clean Elections debate. The House debate was originally scheduled for this Thursday, Sept. 16. It's not happening.

Melvin and Cage are running as "traditional" candidates. Their race is of huge significance in these communities, and in Arizona. And the frustrating thing about "debates" with more than two candidates is that they are not debates at all, but rather shallow forums. We hope to shed some depth on the race between Melvin and Cage. Again, don't care who wins. Just want real conversation about the issues, and Arizona's future.

Cage put out a press release last Thursday that said Melvin had "backed out" of the debate.

"I have never turned down this debate," Melvin said on the telephone this week. Rather, he has asked for a different location, and an expanded field. "I want you to set the record straight." So done.

In our age of instant media, the Melvin-Cage debate is in print, on line, spun every which way by people of interest operating on the basis of insufficient information … all of us, in other words.

This much-condensed telling represents what we know, from the original source, no less.

Will there be a debate between Al Melvin and Cheryl Cage on Sept. 30? Not sure right now. A little discouraged by the twists and turns. Still hopeful to shed light, rather than sound-byte glare, onto an important decision for the voters of the Northwest.

— DPP

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