More on Mayoral debates

The Houston Chronicle reports on the epic mess that came about yesterday as the Mayoral campaigns once again showed the public they are both ignorant of the differences between both a “debate” and a “forum,” but also an “event” and a “non-event.”

The local paper, for as long as I have been alive, has always gathered all the candidates for public office and asked them questions in private. Because the Chronicle, like any other news outlet, strives to make money from the scoops it may print, it has absolutely no incentive to share the on-the-record comments made by the candidates until pertinent segments are published in the relevant editorial.

Accordingly, when Ben Hall suggested making the editorial board meeting “be opened to all media and streamed live on television and radio,” I’m sure all the journalists at the Chronicle had a good laugh. Jeff Cohen, representing the Chronicle, summarily rejected the request with the following statement:

“The Chronicle’s editorial board is a traditional forum where members convene to ask questions of the candidates and debate the issues. It is not something we share with other news outlets. However, if the candidates can agree on another day to come together, we will happily host and moderate a public debate.”

Cohen did leave the possibility of a Houston Chronicle hosted debate still open, which is a position the [Texpatriate] Editorial Board has previously advocated therefor. For what it is worth, I like the idea that Ben Hall’s campaign proposed, but absolutely understand why the Chronicle would reject such an idea.

I will most definitely use this idea at some idea for the future, as it increases visibility while decreasing revenue, perfect for blogs that do not make any money to begin with!

In other news, in response to this whole issue, Annise Parker has publicly accepted an invitation by the League of Women Voters to participate in a televised debate on October 8th. Hall has confirmed his participation as well. It will be aired on PBS/Channel 8/KUHF and be moderated by Linda Lorelle, the former evening anchor for KPRC.

The astute readers of Perry Dorrell‘s blog, or this one, would have known this information for close to a month. However, at the time, we did not hear anything about hosting from the League of Women Voters. Unless these details have changed, the debate will be open to mostly all of the candidates (Cook, Dick, Douglas, Fitzsimmons, Hall, Lane and Parker) and be held at Willowridge High School (16301 Chimney Rock).

So, at press time, there is still only one Mayoral debate. Status quo antebellum.

Debating the debating of debates

The Houston Chronicle reports on this issue, and asks a worthwhile question: is there a meaningful difference between a forum and a debate?

To run through a quick summary of the issue, Ben Hall recently challenged Parker to six debates, Parker responded with a counteroffer of just one debate including all candidates and then ultimately got her way. However, the nature of the issue recently changed when the two front runners began arguing about formalities like word choice.

Evidently, the issue at hand was an event held by the Baptist Ministers’ Association of Houston, to be held tomorrow at 6PM. Parker’s campaign, in conversations with Morris’ article in the Chronicle, insinuated that this was in fact a debate, providing their own definition. Sue Davis, Parker’s communications director, provided this statement:

“When you’re standing there and you’re all on stage at the same time and you’re each taking questions and you’re all answering them and then you make a closing statement, if that’s not a debate, I don’t know what is. That’s just silly.”

Hall’s campaign, represented by his press secretary, Julia Smekalina, released a short & sweet counterstatement:

“A debate is a televised, moderated, formal event on neutral turf.”

To be fair, I do not completely agree with either of these definitions. Since nobody uses dictionaries anymore, we’ll consult Google for our definition: “A formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward.”

Hall’s campaign was pretty much right about everything except the televised part. What Davis described was not a debate, it was a forum, of which there is a difference. Google defines that word as “A meeting or medium where ideas and views on a particular issue can be exchanged.”

A forum, simply put, sounds like what this Baptist Ministers’ event is. In a forum, the candidates may answer questions and exchange opening/closing statements, but they most certainly do not debate. In these types of events, the candidates simply give stump speeches one after another, they do not have the opportunity to critique each others positions (or lack thereof). As far as I can tell, the October 8th event is the only debate we are having this election.

Needless to say, Texpatriate (or at least, myself) will be at this event, however you would name it, to see what is going on. It will be my penultimate weekend in Houston until Christmas, so I will attempt to make the most of it.

Mayoral Debate set

Brains & Eggs reports, via a confidential source, that all the Mayoral candidates met in a smoke-filled room and hammered out a tentative deal on Mayoral debates: Just one, including all candidates. In other words, exactly what Mayor Parker wanted. B&E continues, enumerating the conditions of the debate and such:

This past week a meeting was held to negotiate a mayoral candidates’ debate among the seven declared candidates running for Mayor of the City of Houston.  This debate will take place on October 8, 2013, at 7:00 pm.  It is to be sponsored by the Bethel Family Church Empowerment Center.  The debate will take place at Willowridge High School, 16301 Chimney Rock, and Houston media will be invited to cover it.
Candidates and/or campaign staff from seven campaigns were invited to the meeting: Don Cook, Eric Dick, Keryl Douglas, Michael Fitzsimmons, Ben Hall, Victoria Lane, and Annise Parker.  Two candidates (Douglas and Fitzsimmons) were not present and were not represented by any of their staff at the meeting.
Judging from the intensity of the negotiations, it seems unlikely that there will be more than one scheduled debate, at least one that includes all of the candidates.
It was proposed that any subsequent candidates other than the seven already identified should be excluded from debating. In the discussion that followed, most participants seemed to feel that the elimination of any later candidates who were “not viable” or “not serious” because they had not declared early enough or not raised enough money was appropriate.
It was agreed that a drawing would take place ten minutes prior to the event with all candidates present to determine the order of candidates’ initial statements, and opening remarks would be 90 seconds each (in a fifteen-minute window).  Thirty minutes was allotted for the debate itself and a total of ten minutes for candidate closing statements.
I find this a little bit ridiculous. Only 90 minutes of actual debating between seven candidates? That is utterly preposterous and an insult to the intelligence and attention span of the average Houstonian. As I discussed in great detail in my previous writings on the Mayor’s debate position, more than one debate is simply a necessity for a competitive Mayoral election in the nation’s fourth largest city.
It is no secret that Ben Hall is a big proponent of the multiple-debates position, but Eric Dick is as well. The other candidates are too insignificant to make a difference one way or another on the issue. Accordingly, it is obviously the Mayor who is pushing back and forcing a single debate.
The list of multi-debate supporters in the press/blogosphere is somewhat long, though. I’ve long taken that view, and have been joined by the Texpatriate Editorial Board, Texas Leftist, Brains & Eggs, Off the Kuff and the Houston Chronicle (although everyone disagrees about how many candidates to include).
Mayor Parker is obviously not an opulent, aloof, elitist politician laughing at the peasants while riding around in a fancy limo, no matter what Eric Dick would have you believe. But the defamatory comment is still in the back of everyone’s minds, and when the Mayor does something even slightly reminiscent of it, like refuse to debate with her opponents. As Texas Leftist reminded us all, it reeks of a page out of Rick Perry’s playbook.
I’ll have more on this story when the Chronicle picks it up and we can learn more details about it.

Parker wants one debate

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:

Houston mayoral challenger Ben Hall has asked incumbent Annise Parker to face off in six debates this fall, but Parker says one will suffice.

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.

Six Debates

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Evidently, the Ben Hall campaign sent out a press release (please see image) this morning challenging Mayor Parker to six –yes, I said SIX– debates between Labor Day and Election Day. The exact text of the announcement goes as follows:

The Honorable Annise Parker
Mayor of Houston
901Bagby Street
Houston, TX 77002

Dear Mayor Parker,

I am writing to propose that you and I share our contrasting ideas and vision for the
future of this great city through a series of debates.

Three debates should be held after Labor Day but prior to the start of early voting
and three additional debates after the start of early voting and before our November
election. Too much is at stake for us not to share our plans for Houston with her
citizens, and I hope you agree promptly to debating six times this fall.

I have instructed my staff to contact your campaign staff to begin discussions on the
details.

Please accept this invitation.

Sincerely,
Ben Hall

I have a few comments on this. First, it makes absolutely no sense to have three debates during Early Voting. That is literally one of the worst ideas I have heard from the Hall campaign this year, and that is saying something. Over half of regular voters cast their ballots before Election Day, so including half of the debates during that time is a bad idea.

Second, and perhaps this is just my own personal preference, but I am disappointed in the no-debates-until-after-Labor-Day suggestion by Hall’s team. I leave for Boston on August 27th, and won’t be back until after the Runoff Election. However, I do tend to recall an August debate in 2009. That splits up the time a little more efficiently.  Cramming six debates into eight weeks reaches a point of diminishing returns.

Finally, the whole thing smells. Not the Texas Senate smell, but you get the point. I recall something similar back in 2008, when John McCain challenged Barack Obama to 10 town hall debates. The debates, of course, never happened, but there was one town-hall style debate between McCain & Obama. As I recall, Obama wiped the floor with McCain in that debate, as the old opponent had nothing memorable to say, with one key exception.

But the main point is that McCain was desperate, and so he blurted out this unrealistic goal of myriad debates, knowing Obama would have no choice but to rebuff his offer. For the record, McCain made the offer in June, not the last day of July. Ben Hall could be employing a similar tactic here.

I am looking forward to the Mayoral debates, though–although I would much prefer three debates: 1 in August, 1 in September and 1 in October. Parker has never been an especially adept speaker or talented debater. Ben Hall, on the other hand, is a somewhat good debater. I supported Gene Locke in 2009, based in large part, to his debate performance. In that election, however, all three candidates were an equal footing when it came to other issues. In 2013, that is simply not the case between Hall and Parker.

One other major point is who will be included within this debate. The 2009 debates included Brown, Locke, Morales and Parker. In that election, only three other candidates existed, and all of them were far fringe. It is arguable that Eric Dick, Keryl Douglas and Don Cook should be included in these debates.

Texas Leftist has more.

“I am not a Liberal”

My roommate has an alarm that consistently goes off in the early morning, irrespective of whether he gets up or not. The alarm is a song that beginning with the audible word of “Craziness” before descending into a sub-par Chinese song that is unintelligible to me.

Well, that seemed to be what last night’s debate was like. I keenly remember Sadler calling Cruz “crazy” a few times, and then the event drifted into gibberish and pedantic drek. The two did not seem to get to very much policy, which was somewhat disappointing, but traded quite a few ad hominems and other oddly placed insults, jabs, and gibes.

In re the Seinfeld Reference:
In what I cannot overstate enough tarnished my respect for Paul Sadler, he took the bait and took offense to Ted Cruz calling him a “liberal”. This has always reminded me of the Seinfeld scene where Kramer accuses Jerry of being discriminatory against dentists. The fact is that Ted Cruz is simply calling his opponent by his political affiliation. It makes Sadler look quite weak when we runs away from honest labels like a scared, little mutt. If he had any real chutzpah, he would explain what it means to be a Liberal (e.g., have a heart like Roosevelt, Kennedy, Clinton) and why a Liberal would be good for our state. Instead, he legitimized Cruz’s preposterous insult by simply refuting it on face value.

Kramer: …and you’re an anti-Dentite
Cruz: “I commend my opponent’s courage in running an unapologetically liberal campaign”

Jerry: I am not an anti-Denite!
Sadler: “Do you consider it Liberal to say we have to pay down the national debt?”

Yes, Paul, yes I do find it Liberal to be concerned with our deficits. The last true Liberal we had as President did exactly that, but I digress. With this stupid turn, the Democrats have taken the bait and lost their 9th Senate election in a row in Texas.