Debate dodging


The yeasayers are running away from debates and forums, and even from innocuous neutral events. This is the same tactic they used in 2000: If they can deny the opposition a chance to be heard, the weakness of their arguments won't be exposed, and people will only hear their side of the story, by means of their massive media budget.

In 2000, most of the media outlets submitted to this tactic. When the vote yes side would refuse to show up, the station would say, "Well, we can't hold a debate with only one side, so we're cancelling the debate." The vote-yes bullies count on this kind of response.

In 2000, two media outlets showed some guts: KRMG 740 and KWHB (channel 47) both held debates, and when the vote yes side refused to send a participant, they said, "Fine. We'll go ahead without you." In both cases, a proponent showed up to debate -- Jim Norton and Sam Roop, respectively.

This year looked to be different, but the yeasayers have started to back out of debates. TulsaNow went through considerable difficulty to find two proponents (Karen Keith and Paul Wilson) who would appear at tomorrow night's Harwelden event.

A few days ago, I received word from KTUL Channel 8 that Mayor LaFortune has backed out of their debate, scheduled for September 2. The Mayor will instead be appearing on a Cox Cable "town hall forum", at which only one side of the issue will be presented. Sadly, KTUL chose to back down, rather than proceed and have the proponents send another representative. Instead of presenting a live debate, in which voters could hear a free and unfiltered exchange of views, with opportunities for each side to rebut the other, KTUL will air a pre-packaged "special", featuring edited interviews with proponents and opponents.

Today, I heard that the PR guys for the vote-yes crowd have spoiled a planned press conference to promote a voter registration drive. From now until the registration deadline, Arvest Banks in Tulsa will make voter registration forms available at each branch. There was to be a press conference tomorrow at 11:30 at Arvest's downtown branch, featuring the President of the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, Arvest President Don Walker, Mayor Bill LaFortune, and Tulsa County Coalition Co-Chairman Jim Hewgley. This wouldn't be a debate, just all sides coming together to encourage people to register to vote.

All of a sudden, something came up and the Mayor couldn't make it. Evidently it was too much trouble to stop by 5th & Main on his way from 5th & Denver to 5th & Boston. Commissioner Bob Dick couldn't come either. I have heard third- or fourth-hand that the PR flack for the vote-yes campaign was contacted about providing another proponent for the event. He is reported to have blasted Jim Hewgley and to have said that they wouldn't appear at any event with naysayers.

It's strange to me that the Mayor would dodge opportunities for debate. He was an assistant Attorney General, District Attorney, and a zoning attorney. He knows how to present a case to a jury and shouldn't be intimidated at the thought of debating some amateur. And he must appreciate that debate is a crucial feature of our system of justice and our political system.

Beyond the Mayor's courtroom experience, he has an extra advantage: This case wasn't thrust upon him. He was a participant in setting the circumstances and parameters of the case. He professes to believe in it passionately. So why not stand and fight, rather than run away? Is this his own instinct, or is he being dictated to by campaign gurus?

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 6, 2003 8:41 PM.

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