It doesn't matter if you're running for U.S. Congress or your local park board, election season is a grind. First there's the pre-campaign work of lining up supporters and the gathering of signatures that are required to get your name on the ballot. Then there's the fundraising work, organization, financial reporting and the neighborhood canvassing. Don't forget the litany of endorsement interviews with media outlets and special interest groups, including the local chamber of commerce and public employee unions. Lastly, there's the public appearances: The all-important debates and candidate forums that allow voters to see the candidates stand shoulder to shoulder, answering policy questions and occasionally sparring over issues.
These candidate debates were once a staple of American politics and the primary way that voters could hear from politicians before the advent of radio and television advertising.
Sadly though these forums appear to be an endangered political species whose place has usurped in the modern election cycle by packaged sound bytes and carefully selected buzzwords.
Forget Dudley and Kitzhaber. Look no further than the 1,000 Friends/Central Oregon Environmental Center city council candidate forum that took place on Wednesday night for evidence of how the toe-to-toe political debate is fading from relevancy. Although two-thirds of the Bend City Council Candidates showed up for the forum, one of those candidates, Jodie Barram, is running unopposed. Another Ron Boozel is a likeable fringe candidate who has been battling revelations that he has a criminal record and faced an outstanding warrant just a few weeks before the election (Boozel has since appeared in court to address the allegations that he violated his parole). Missing entirely were Scott Ramsay and Mark Moseley, candidates who have earned endorsements from both the Bend Bulletin, Bend Business PAC (the political arm of the Bend Chamber). Their absence left candidates Chuck Arnold, who is in a competitive race with Ramsay, and incumbent Mark Capell, who faces a challenge from Moseley, with a televised platform to discuss their ideas on transportation and land use during Wednesday night's forum. What they didn't have was an opportunity to challenge their opponents on these important issues. That's too bad because Bend voters deserve more than just sound bytes given the significant challenge that the city faces.
"I was really disappointed because I really like Scott (Ramsay) and I have the hope that he wants to do this right and part of doing this is showing up. While there are a lot of forums and there can be conflicts, this [forum] was booked earlier than the rest and we had plenty of notification," said Ramsay's opponent Chuck Arnold.
Asked about the notable absence of Ramsay and Moseley, organizer Ben Gordon of 1,000 Friends of Oregon, was at a loss to explain.
Organizers had initially given the candidates two dates to choose from for the forum and all of the council hopefuls indicated that they would be available. Ramsay initially confirmed his attendance but backed out shortly before the forum, said Gordon, claiming that he had a meeting conflict. Moseley, a former Freightliner executive, waffled on his commitment and ultimately told Gordon that he had an unspecified conflict.
Not knowing the exact reasons why Moseley and Ramsay begged off, one has to at least question whether it was the fact that the forum was being produced by the statewide conservation group 1,000 Friends and the Environmental Center. If that's the case I'm a little bit frightened at the prospect of either of these candidates serving a constituency as broad as Bend's electorate and you ought to be, too.