Last week, the League of Women Voters of Alabama (LWVAL) announced it was canceling its gubernatorial forum between Republican Governor Kay Ivey and her Democratic challenger, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox.
“Since we have not received a response directly from the governor and the election is fast approaching, we have decided to direct our voter information efforts elsewhere,” said Barbara Caddell, LWVAL president.
It is no state secret that Gov. Ivey does not want to debate — or at least her handlers don’t want her to. She has been asked about it repeatedly by reporters and she shrugs it off by saying she’s too busy being governor, or some version of “No one cares about a debate except the media and my opponent.”
I get why her handlers don’t want her to debate. She’s a Republican governor in a blood-red state. Many people vote along party lines (in case you haven’t heard), probably more so in Alabama, so the reasoning is a debate can do nothing but hurt her chances.
And they obviously know it’s not her strong suit, to say the least. So the strategy is just to tout accomplishments, avoid the debate question and media as much as possible, and hope the voters in Alabama vote as they typically do. The numbers are on her side. If I were paid the big bucks to be her political adviser, I’d probably make the same calculation.
But I’m not her consultant. I get paid to help provide the citizens of Mobile and this great state as much information as possible so they can make informed decisions about the leaders they elect. If I had a little American flag sitting on my desk, I would wave it right now. So from my perspective, her refusal to participate in this process, if I am speaking eloquently, really sucks.
As the LWVAL stated in its news release calling off the event, a forum like this is designed to be a “thoughtful exchange of ideas so that voters can inform themselves before going to the polls. A candidate forum allows citizens to compare candidates issue by issue; voters can see how candidates understand the issues and verbalize their positions under scrutiny.”
Personally, as a citizen and as one of the five independent voters in the state (just kidding, I know there are more of us — maybe 10?), I actually do want to kick the tires on both of them a little bit more.
And I do want to see how Gov. Ivey handles herself. Her health and age (73) have been brought up quietly and not-so-quietly as potential problems. This happens in practically every race involving a septuagenarian, no matter what party they belong to or what office they are running for. I know plenty of 73-year-olds who still kick ass and take names, but I want to see for myself if she is one of them. And a debate is a great place to disprove any notion of incompetence and, in fact, stick it to the people daring to question your mental fitness.
One of the most memorable debate moments in presidential history is when President Ronald Reagan absolutely owned Water Mondale on this very issue by using humor and saying, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
What a great line. Even Mondale laughed. And obviously this performance greatly assuaged the concerns people might have had about his abilities and helped guarantee his re-election. He was the exact same age as Ivey when he delivered that zinger.
By not doing the forum, the whispers will continue about Ivey and then voters will not only have to determine how they feel about her but also Will Ainsworth as our next governor.
Many people don’t care as long as both candidates play for their team. But there are still many other folks who do want to feel confident in the guy or gal they are actually voting for — even if they are in their party of choice — not the “political angels of death,” licking their chops and waiting in the wings.
I know it’s a fool’s errand to add my name to the list of many other media folks in the state asking for this. She and her people have made up their minds, and they are just not going to do it. That’s been made abundantly clear. And at this point, she has dug in her sensible heels so firmly on this and for so long, I’m sure her advisers would say she would look weak, like she was caving to pressure from her opponent if she changed her mind now. And they are probably correct to assume that is how it would be played because that is how politics works. So, here we are with no ability to hear from the candidates, side by side, for the highest elected office in the state.
But what is even more disappointing about this whole situation is that Ivey has not even responded to questions for the League of Women Voters’ online voting guide, which simply asks the candidates to express their priorities while in office, and views on the economy, environment, health care and such. At press time, her questionnaire on their very useful Vote411.org website sits empty. Candidate has not responded.
To speak eloquently, that’s pretty piss-poor. You can’t even have a campaign staffer type up a few lines on each question to send in? What a middle finger to people who actually want to understand your positions on the issues and not just vote the party line!
Call me old-fashioned but I still at least try to believe in truth, justice and the American way. At least when that “American way” included a free, unbiased national press that acts as the Fourth Estate, due process in all public forums — no matter if you are poor or rich, black or white, male or female — and lively but civil debate in the public square between candidates who want to be our leaders.
It seems we are batting 0-3 this week.
Or sadly, maybe this is just the new American way.