Dems and GOP Say, ‘Stay Away’
Third-party candidates want to join debate
By Jesse Call
As Ohio’s major-party candidates for the U.S. Senate prepare to field questions in a debate Oct. 8, candidates for smaller parties are working to be allowed in the debate at all.
Although they come from very different political perspectives, Dan La Botz, the Socialist Party candidate, and Eric Deaton, the Constitution Party candidate, have teamed together to petition for inclusion in the upcoming debates. The online petition calls upon Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to “ensure that all of the candidates in the Ohio Senate race as well as other national, state and local races have an equal opportunity to participate in debates before the public,” citing the fact that she is the official “responsible for overseeing elections” in Ohio.
La Botz also has made a separate appeal to the debate’s sponsor and host, the Ohio News Organization.
Brunner, who lost the Democratic primary for the same Senate seat that La Botz and Deaton seek, is organizing a debate for secretary of state candidates in which many third-party candidates are included. She also has taken steps to make sure that Ohio ballots include the party affiliations of third-party candidates, instead of just calling them “independent.”
‘A question of efficiency’
But, although Brunner said she believes all candidates should be heard, she is not sure whether or not she will work to include the third-party candidates in the senatorial debates.
“Frankly, my personal philosophy is that everyone should be included,” she says.
Only .04 percent of the voters in the primary election voted on the Socialist ballot statewide, and only .17 percent voted on the Constitution Party ballot, according to Brunner. That is low compared to even other minority parties, including the Libertarian Party, which had 0.3% statewide.
“Some would argue that the number of voter voting Socialist Party ballots was so small that it would be a question of efficiency on whether or not to include Dan (La Botz),” Brunner says.
Brunner says she will keep checking on the level of support for inclusion of the candidates before making a decision on whether or not to lobby, as secretary of state, for their inclusion.
“Now, whether I am going to go out and make this a major issue remains to be seen because it falls into an area where I really don’t have enforcement, and I would simply would be using persuasion to try to make sure all candidates are included,” Brunner says.
She also admits she wants to be careful about the appearance of any influence on the race, given that she is a former candidate.
“I wouldn’t want it to appear as though I was doing this for personal reasons,” Brunner says. “So, you know, that is where I would hesitate.”
The Ohio News Organization, a consortium of eight daily metro newspapers in Ohio, is hosting the debates. The organization said it feels it is more fair to the voters of Ohio if they can have a more substantive debate among the two candidates most likely to be elected rather than asking the same questions of more candidates.
“The logic is sound: In a television debate format, when time constraints limit the number of questions and answers to be heard, it is of the utmost importance that voters hear from the two candidates who are clearly the front-runners for the office,” Benjamin Marrison, editor of The Columbus Dispatch and lead organizer of the debates, said in a statement. “While we have and will continue to write about third-party candidates when warranted, including them in debates limits Ohioans’ ability to hear answers from the top candidates on issues critical to the state’s future.”
Marrison also noted that they are following the format used in U.S. presidential debates, which also routinely exclude third party candidates.
That example is a poor one to follow, according to La Botz.
‘A terrible model’
“The presidential model excluded candidates who we knew had great potential,” he says. “The presidential model is a terrible model. The real issue is giving all candidates an opportunity to present their views, and that (time) excuse is ridiculous. The American people understand our country is in a crisis, and they want to hear opinions – all the positions that are out there.”
La Botz says that approval for the socialist perspective is increasing throughout the country, citing polls conducted by major research organizations including Gallup, Pew, and Rasmussen.
He also says that it is more fair to include candidates like him because, in many cases, he is forced to decline invitations to town hall meetings throughout the state because of the cost of having to travel and the fact that, unlike the major-party candidates, he has to be present for his day job and is therefore unable to attend meetings during work hours.
“I’m going to do everything possible to be included in the debate,” La Botz says.
La Botz says he is looking at other options, including legal action, and that he will “do his best to show up at the debate” and ask to be included.
Despite multiple requests for comment made to the campaigns of Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, the Democratic candidate, and Rob Portman, the Republican candidate, as well as to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Commitee, all of them chose not to respond to this story.
“I’m sure many in my party wouldn’t agree with me (on including all candidates in debates),” Brunner says.
Deaton says he knows the major-party candidates are “afraid of (his) candidacy” and that he “feels strongly that he would win the race if he is included in the debates.” La Botz says he was not surprised that the major parties did not respond, noting that he thinks they would prefer to have no debates at all because they are afraid to commit to any controversial positions. He says he wants to challenge the major-party candidates on how their parties have bankrupted the country and ignored the will of the electorate to care for the environment and end foreign wars.
La Botz encourages those who believe he and other third-party candidates should be included in the debates to sign the petition and write letters to the editors of Ohio’s major metro newspapers.
The petition is available online at http://www.change.org/petitions/view/petition_for_inclusive_political_debates_in_ohio.