As Primary Election Day approaches, Whitewater Community Television is doing a great community service by partnering with the Wayne County Area Chamber of Commerce to broadcast debates between candidates for Mayor and City Council as a part of their IN Focus series.
I’m enough of a local politics observer that I plan to watch each of these, but since they’re accessible via cable TV and online I hope many voters in the community tune in too.
Thursday’s debate was between Republican Mayoral candidates Kyle Ingram and Diana Pappin, with the agreed-upon limit of one Ronald Reagan reference allowed per person. You can watch the full replay here. Some thoughts:
It was clearly the first debate of the local political season; both candidates seemed a little nervous and stiff, as many of us would be under the pressure of lights, cameras and pointed questions. No matter how much one might like or dislike a given candidate, you have to appreciate them for subjecting themselves to the process.
The challenge of this format is trying to get specific, detailed answers out of a candidate in a short enough period of time that you can actually cover some good topical ground. As candidates become immersed in their own political rhetoric, marketing materials and catch-phrases, they start to sound a little like robots instead of normal humans having a conversation. So, I appreciated both the work that hosts Eric Marsh and Bill Engle did to get past the rhetoric, and the work the candidates did to try wading into some details.
Still, I suspect the average voter will find their answers somewhat unsatisfying. The general theme was often “we’ll have to look at that” or “the Mayor needs to ask those hard questions and communicate better” or “you have to be sitting in the Mayor’s chair before you can know that.” This is a very standard kind of answer to give – I’m sure I did it when I ran for office – but it also kind of defeats the purpose of a conversation designed to help voters know your views and approach BEFORE you get elected.
Getting specific is hard, but important. Saying that you’ll figure it out once you get there is asking for a lot of voter faith, but at the same time speaks a kind of truth: that we’re often voting for someone because we like them and trust them to do the right thing most of the time, not because we agree with (or even know) the specific details of their plans and policies.
I did notice that Kyle Ingram seemed more practiced in the sharp-edged and sometimes negative rhetorical tactics you might find in classic debate prep advice. A few times he referred to Pappin as “my opponent” instead of calling her by name, he made vague references to “naysayers and obstructionists” without really saying who or what he was talking about, made a few jabs at Pappin’s record, and concocted an odd scenario (perhaps designed to scare us into voting for him?) where a Richmond Police Officer is under fire while eating lunch at Cracker Barrel, but can’t radio for help because Reid Hospital didn’t pay its taxes. Hmmm. (That said, if Mr. Ingram makes the need for better cellular signal coverage on the east side near I-70 the central talking point of his campaign, he’s got my vote!)
Overall, there were some important issues discussed, from city finances to appropriate use of EDIT dollars to job creation to protecting people from discrimination. It was great to see WCTV taking questions from viewers by phone and via Twitter. I hope people continue to avail themselves of the opportunity to interact with candidates this way.
Did you watch the debate? What did you think?
Voter registration ends on April 6th. Upcoming forums include April 9th, Democratic candidates for Council At-Large, April 16th, Republican candidates for Council District 6, and April 23rd, Democratic candidates for Mayor – I’ll try to post commentary on each.