On July 14th, Republican Senate candidate Ed Gillespie sent out a press release announcing that he has accepted an additional three upcoming debates at JMU, UVA, and George Mason. As the notice goes on to say, incumbent Mark Warner has only agreed to one debate thus far.
When I saw this email from the Gillespie campaign, the question that first popped into my mind was, will all three of the candidates who will be on the November ballot be allowed to participate? The answer, unfortunately, is no. As was the case in Virginia’s gubernatorial race last year, at this point the Libertarian Robert Sarvis will be excluded.
I must confess that I think denying a spot to one of the candidates is a great injustice. After all, how will voters be able to learn about all of their choices if all are not allowed the same opportunity to participate?
I was blissfully unaware of these exclusionary policies until I went to work for Ron Paul in 2007. On January 6th, two days before the 2008 New Hampshire Republican primary, my boss, Ron Paul, was not permitted to take part in this final debate. Despite Fox News’ intentional efforts to erase him from the spotlight, he still managed to win one county in New Hampshire.
In 2012, it was Gary Johnson’s turn to fall under the thumb of exclusion. Even though he was the former Governor of New Mexico, he was only allowed to participate in two of the Republican debates. What was equally curious was that Herman Cain, who has never held elective office and dropped out of the race before any vote was cast, was invited to every single one. How can anyone make the claim that this is fair? Given he was so routinely ignored, (coupled with some philosophical differences) who could fault Johnson for leaving the GOP and joining the Libertarian Party?
Getting back to my main point, after I heard that Sarvis would be excluded, I contacted a number of the host organizations and venues to voice my disapproval and to discover why they think it is acceptable to only allow certain candidates a voice. Let me share with you one response: “In my communications with the campaigns of the two major political party candidates, the question of whether or not Mr. Sarvis would be invited was a point of discussion. Both campaigns had stated that if Mr. Sarvis were to be invited to participate in the debate their chances of agreeing to accept the invitation was unlikely and actually committing was even less likely.” Can you believe it? Apparently both the Warner and Gillespie campaigns don’t wish to engage with Robert Sarvis. And should a host allow all of the campaigns an equal place on the stage, apparently the Warner and Gillespie campaigns will boycott, choosing instead to take their ball and go home. The two words that come to mind to best describe this situation are arrogance and cowardice.
Over a week ago, I contacted both the Warner and Gillespie campaigns seeking an official comment on this issue. Although both indicated that they would offer a reply, thus far neither has done so.
Let’s set aside our personal opinions about Robert Sarvis for a moment and look at this situation objectively. What if a debate host decided to exclude either Republican Ed Gillespie or Democratic Mark Warner? I would assume that a large segment of the population would declare the event a farce and object loudly. Or what if Gillespie and Sarvis colluded with each other to prevent Warner’s inclusion? Again, that would be wrong, would it not? Couldn’t either of these two scenarios easily end up swaying the election in the favor of one of the two candidates who were allowed air time?
Friends, as I pointed out in an earlier piece, Virginia election laws make third party and independent candidates jump through extra hoops. To make matters worse, they then end up excluding these non two party candidates from airing their political opinions in public forums. Doesn’t this make you angry? If not, what would you say if the shoe were on the other foot, if they decided to do the same to your candidate of choice? What if in 2012 they said no to Barack Obama or Mitt Romney? The ends do not justify the means!
Where is the justice in these exclusionary debates? I hope that the Warner and Gillespie campaigns will do the right and honorable thing.