I logged onto Twitter this afternoon to find the following tweet from the Ben Hall campaign:
Parker rejects Ben’s historic proposal for six debates. She wants only one. The people of Houston deserve better!
And then, this article by Mike Morris at the Houston Chronicle:
Hall wants three showdowns after Labor Day on Sept. 2 but before the start of early voting, and another three leading up to Election Day on Nov. 5, so the candidates can “share our contrasting ideas and vision for the future of this great city.”
“Too much is at stake for us not to share our plans for Houston with her citizens,” Hall wrote in a letter to Parker.
Parker has agreed to just one debate, said campaign spokeswoman Sue Davis, to include all mayoral candidates and all media. The event would be scheduled after the Aug. 26 candidate filing deadline, Davis said.
“All year long, Mayor Parker speaks daily about city issues to civic clubs, neighborhood groups and other organizations, holds tele-town halls and online chats and is available to the media,” Davis said.
This sparked my interest, so I contacted the Parker campaign myself to discuss this quandary. After a few emails, Sue Davis, Parker’s communication director, sent me the following statement:
Mayor Parker participated in many debates in the 2009 campaign. However, that was different in that it was an open seat. Since she’s been in office, Mayor Parker has spent the last three and a half years speaking to just about everyone and every organization who has asked her to speak. She has spoken to Houstonians one-on-one in person, by telephone and through social media about what the city is doing for them in every area of their lives. She continues to do so today. I believe Houstonians have a very good idea of who Mayor Parker is, the good work she has done for this city and the plans she has for our future.
She later made a point of noting there was only one debate in 2011, as well.
I have had almost no problems with the Mayor’s campaign up until now, but these comments struck a line with me. Meeting with people and delineating your ideas does not excuse you from declining to debate your opponents. While I certainly agree that six debates is far too many, the idea of a single debate is laughable and ridiculous.
While one debate may have been sufficient for 2011, Parker has legitimate opposition in this year’s election. She does not have the luxury of sitting out the contest. If the Mayor is truly so nonchalant about speaking, voicing and defending her opinions and positions, the debates should be a breeze for her. While such action on her part will most likely not affect her standings in the polls in any meaningful way, it bodes poorly for her campaign’s image, and reeks of a move out of Rick Perry’s playbook.
As for the notion that perhaps the Mayor does not have time to attend multiple debates (I would like to see THREE), such an idea would be utterly ludicrous. The President of the United States took enough time out of his busy schedule last year to prepare and attend THREE debates, the Mayor is more than able to do the same.
I fear that Parker’s campaign is underplaying her hand, which in turn has lead them to this regrettable move. I have never seen Ben Hall in a debate, so I can not speak as to how well he would perform, but I believe everyone agrees it is not very far-fetched that he could outdo Parker in the oratory (and, of course, obfuscation). Such a premise, however, ignores an invaluable fact: Annise Parker will be able to run on her record. Obama couldn’t do that last year because the economy still sucks and there haven’t been any major positive impacts felt yet pertaining to Obamacare (because the law’s major components aren’t in effect yet). It is absolutely imperative that, in any an all debates which may occur, Parker stands strong on her record. She has the record to run on.
If she does that, it shouldn’t matter how many debates there are. She made a huge mistake in fully rebuffing Hall’s offer to multiple debates.