Campaign 2014’s Biggest Loser: Debate
From the November 2014 edition of the The SCENE
Friday night in Wisconsin means fish fry, brandy old
fashioned happy hour, family gathering, dinner and a movie, party after a long
week of work, high school sports, and just about anything other than
potentially depressing political discussion.
Even citizens deeply engaged in elections have Friday night lives. So
why did the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association (WBA), the establishment media
outfit for some reason empowered to sponsor the only two formal gubernatorial
debates, schedule them on Friday nights?
With the possible exception of a Doogie Howser, M.D.
rerun marathon, it’s hard to imagine what besides political debate would get
lower ratings on a Friday evening. As a further slap in the face, the WBA only
allowed Scott Walker and Mary Burke on stage. Dennis Fehr of the Peoples’ Party
and the Libertarians’ Robert Burke (no relation to Mary), articulate candidates
standing for something other than business as usual, were excluded.
But the WBA’s sham Friday night blah blah fests
represent just one part of what has been a miserable debate season in
Wisconsin. Locally, the SCENE partnered with Cheryl Hentz’s “Eye on Oshkosh”
program to produce debates for as many local and state wide races as possible. Transcripts
of candidate shows appeared in the Oshkosh SCENE. Cheryl asked me to cohost along
with UW Oshkosh journalism student Emilie Heidemann. Here’s a summary of our
Candidates Flip Us The Bird: Cheryl did all of the hard
work involved in scheduling candidate appearances for Eye on Oshkosh. She knew
the demands on the mainstream governor candidates would make it difficult for
them to commit the time, but never expected them to be so dismissive of the
invitation. The behavior of the Burke campaign puzzled us, as she needs to do
well in northeast Wisconsin to win the race. One might think the campaign would
jump at the opportunity to get some local free media time. Instead, her
Communications Director communicated hostilities to Cheryl, angry that she sent
repeated requests to schedule a taping with us.
AD Candidate Flip Flops Invitation: Cheryl invited 54th
district incumbent representative Gordon Hintz (D) and his challenger,
political newcomer Mark Elliott (R) to appear. Hintz came on and answered allquestions put to him. Elliott initially seemed excited to talk, then withdrew
because, as he told Cheryl, our September interview schedule was “too early” in
the campaign to start doing interviews. This in spite of the fact that he had
already been on WOSH radio in Oshkosh on May 21st to answer
questions and announce that he needed to “speak to every group that I can.” Perhaps he meant “too early to answer
anything but softball questions on WOSH.”
CD: Grothman Flips His Lid: Of all the candidates
running for office this year Glenn Grothman, the Republican seeking to replace
the retiring Tom Petri, has been the most contemptuous of debate. Not only has
he refused to appear at a number of forums, but he and his political operatives
have questioned the integrity of debate sponsors. Imagine Stephen Douglas in
1858 refusing to debate Abe Lincoln because “those liberal abolitionists won’t
be fair to me.” Shame on Grothman, and shame on the establishment media for
allowing him to get away with his strategic non-participation. Mr. Harris
appeared on Eye on Oshkosh and all other venues interested in voter education.
If you read this column before Election Day, be sure to check out his
campaign’s realglenngrothman.com page.
General: Flippin’ Unbelievable. Cheryl invited
Attorney General candidates Brad Schimel (R) and Susan Happ (D). Currently
Jefferson County DA, Happ like Burke needs to do well in northeast Wisconsin to
win a statewide race. Yet her campaign just could not find a way to get her to
Eye On Oshkosh; eventually they just stopped responding to Cheryl’s outreach
Waukesha County DA Schimel graciously accepted the
invitation, and respectfully answered every question put to him in clear,
concise terms that were conservative but not Van Hollen wingnut. The Democrats
could not find a way to get their candidate on the program, yet they managed to
get Eye on Oshkosh national attention by sending out a press release attacking
Schimel for the way he responded to a question I asked about the proper role of
an Attorney General in the 1950s, when some states outlawed interracial
marriage. That one clip of the interview ended up on the websites of the
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin Eye, The Young Turks, Talking PointsMemo, and others. Unbelievable.
Treasurer’s Race: Flippin’ Awesome. By far my favorite Eye
on Oshkosh experience of the campaign season was the debate that Cheryl and Ihosted between Green Party candidate Ron Hardy and the Constitution Party’s Andrew
Zuelke. As third party candidates shunned by the establishment media, Hardy and
Zuelke enthusiastically accepted the invitation to debate. The debate exposed
serious disagreements between them on the role of the State Treasurer
(especially over Hardy’s call for a publically funded state bank), but they
treated each other with the utmost respect. Indeed, it was probably the most
civil and educational debate I have ever helped moderate.
Notice that neither Hardy nor Zuelke are in the
grips of the special interests that control the establishment party candidates.
Chew on that fact at next Friday’s fish fry.