Las Vegas Sun

October 26, 2014

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Editorial:

Why can’t we talk about this? Candidates need to debate

Democrat Lucy Flores and Republican Mark Hutchison face off this week to debate in the race for lieutenant governor. It’s an important event in what has become the biggest contest on the ballot.

With great popularity and no viable opponent, Gov. Brian Sandoval is a shoo-in for re-election. With the potential that he could move on to higher office before his next term is finished, the winner of the lieutenant governor’s race could be living in the Governor’s Mansion within four years.

Because of that, voters should pay particular attention to the race, and the candidates should vigorously discuss the issues.

That has yet to happen.

The debate Wednesday in front of the group Hispanics in Politics is the candidates’ first because Hutchison had been slow to agree to meet Flores. Democrats attacked him for ducking Flores, but that seems to have done little to shame him into action.

Of course, that’s not a surprise. Both Flores and Hutchison are attorneys and serve in the state Legislature, and both can handle themselves in a discussion. However, debates can be politically dangerous terrain for candidates. A gaffe or a bad showing can be fatal.

Look no further than Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s terrible performance during the 2012 Republican primaries. Put on the spot, Perry fumbled trying to come up with basic answers about government and became a national punch line.

The problem with debates

Debates have become little more than political beauty pageants. With prepared statements and scripted answers, candidates go into debates hoping opponents stumble. Any real discussion of the issues is shelved because viewers often score debates based on who looks the best and who makes the fewest mistakes.

Who’s to blame for this?

Well, everyone.

Campaigns spend great effort staging these events, quibbling over the smallest details, such as the color of the backdrop, seemingly more concerned about how their candidates are viewed than the depth of their answers.

Why? That’s what voters have come to expect.

Expectations

Why do voters set low expectations?

Because they aren’t studying the issues or how the candidates line up on them. Or, they’ve already made up their minds based on party politics and aren’t open to further evaluation.

At best, they pass judgement on a debate by who makes the fewest mistakes or how the pundits weigh in, knee-jerk fashion.

What we need

We can’t expect that candidates will be perfect or have all the answers.

But they should share their thoughts, ideas and beliefs. And they should be willing to risk being honest.

Ask these questions

What do you really know about the candidates you’re voting for — their political stances, values and what frames their decisions?

The honest answer: probably not much.

The bottom line

The responsibility falls on candidates to stop worrying about scoring points and instead demonstrate leadership by discussing the issues and letting voters know how they’ll answer tough questions.

That goal could be dismissed as naïve and idealistic, but what’s the alternative? Doing the same things we always have done? That’s not much of an answer.

The state continues to face serious issues, from the future of education to the strength of the Nevada economy, and we’d like to hear a full discussion by those running for office of what could and should be done. And we know of no better place to start than in the race for lieutenant governor.

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