Editorial: Let them debate
Before 1988 the non-partisan League of Women Voters was the sponsor of presidential debates. Before that year’s debates between Republican George H.W. Bush and Democrat Michael Dukakis, however, the League pulled out.
The candidates, the League claimed, had entered into deal deciding how the debates would unfold, including which candidates would be allowed and who would get to ask the questions. They wanted no part of that.
Stepping into the void to decide the rules was the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has run all the presidential debates since. They are comprised of Democrats and Republicans. Essentially, the candidates are still deciding the rules.
And to the surprise of no one, Democrats and Republicans are doing their best to keep other parties out, forcing Americans to choose between them. This year both the Republican and Democratic candidates are hugely unpopular, setting new records for unfavorable ratings. To many Americans, it is truly a choice of the lesser evil.
There are, however, two other candidates for president who are on enough state’s ballots that they could — in theory — get to 270 Electoral College votes and be elected. They are the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein. Both will be on Arizona’s ballot. All four candidates should be in this fall’s presidential debate.
To be eligible for the CPD’s debates, candidates must be on enough state’s ballots to get to 270 Electoral College votes. This is a very high hurdle, one few candidates can clear. It takes a national organization to do so, and it should be enough.
In addition, the CPD requires that candidates reach at least 15 percent in five recent polls. This has kept every alternative candidate from the major parties out of the debates except for 1992 when H. Ross Perot spent $60 million of his own money to clear that hurdle.
It’s a vicious circular argument for alternative candidates. People won’t support you, they say, because you can’t win. You can’t win, they say, because you won’t be in the debates. And you can’t be in the debates, they say, because they won’t support you.
So the Democrats and Republicans have conspired to limit voter choice and force Americans to choose between two very flawed candidates.
Gary Johnson is currently polling at 10 percent and has a chance to be in the debates. He’s the former Republican governor of New Mexico. His running mate, Bill Weld, is the former Republican governor of Massachusetts.
Libertarians are fiscal conservatives, but put a huge priority on personal liberty. As such, they tend to be liberal on social issues. They will not appeal to every Republican, especially social conservatives. However, many Republicans who cannot stomach the thought of voting for Donald Trump, may find Johnson a great alternative.
Likewise Stein for Democrats who are not Hillary Clinton fans. The Green Party is very liberal on all issues. The four pillars of the party are non-violence, grassroots democracy, social justice and ecological wisdom. Stein has adopted many of the policies advocated by Bernie Sanders, including free college for most Americans and forgiving student loan debt.
Stein, a retired medical doctor, is polling at 5-to-6 percent nationally despite never having held political office. Her running make is Ajamu Baraka, who is a human rights advocate.
Many who might be drawn to either Johnson’s or Stein’s message are hesitant to support them because they are told, A. They can’t win; B. A vote for Johnson/Stein is a vote for Clinton/Trump. It’s the same argument the major parties have been using for years, falsely claiming that Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the election in 2000; (Greens correctly point out that if Gore had won his home state of Tennessee, he would have been president and Florida wouldn’t have mattered).
America is a diverse nation and no one should fear an open debate of ideas. This year, more than ever, Americans deserve to hear from all the presidential candidates.
Gary Johnson and Jill Stein should be in this fall’s debates.
— Ken Sain
Ken Sain is the associate editor of the Chino Valley Review and Prescott Valley Tribune. Email him at email@example.com.