It's Not Debatable: We Deserve So Much Better

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I love California.  I was born here, I met my wife here, and I expect to live the rest of my days here.  Coming back almost five years ago was the best decision I ever made. 

That's not to say the state doesn't have challenges.  We have plenty---housing costs, homelessness, the environment, taxation and regulation---and the less visible issues that come with being the fifth largest economy in the world. 

Whatever your political views, however you think those issues should best be addressed---we're getting shortchanged.  We are 25 days from an election where we will, among other things, choose a new Governor and decide whether our senior United States Senator stays or goes.  In terms of a statewide election, this is as big as it gets.

Time was, that was a recipe for about six nights of pre-empted prime-time TV.  Two or three debates per office, starting after Labor Day and in a reasonably regular cadence leading up to election eve.   Sixty to ninety minutes of the candidates comparing and contrasting their stance on the issues, their plans and policies for the future, should they be elected or re-elected.  An opportunity to watch them at length and get a sense of who they are and what we could believe.  

That is infinitely better than 30 second negative campaign ads focused on their opponent with the candidate's only appearance being the tag at the end: "I'm (name) and I approve this message."  At least for us, the voter.  For the candidates, it's a different story.  We see and hear so many negative ads because they work.  And we've been seeing fewer debates as time goes by because they pose a risk for the candidate. At a minimum, they don't get to control the message.  Worst case, they say something wrong they can't take back.

In 2010, Jerry Brown debated Meg Whitman three times.  In 2014, he agreed to one debate with Neel Kashkari.  That seemed inadequate, but it was at least on TV in prime time.

This year, the single debate between the two major candidates for Governor has come and gone.  Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom and businessman John Cox did it on Monday, at 10:00 a.m. on public radio.  

Now, incumbent (and senior) U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and her challenger, State Senator Kevin de Leon, have agreed to their one and only----um----well, Feinstein's campaign calls it a debate, but since the candidates won't be allowed to address each other, de Leon's campaign says it's not.  The Pacific Policy Institute of California is hosting the two candidates in San Francisco for what it is calling a "discussion".   At noon, next Wednesday.  No TV. No radio, public or otherwise.  Livestreamed.   And that's a major concession for Senator Feinstein, who hasn't shared a stage with an opponent in 18 years.

I'm not a Luddite.  I know the world has changed and that we don't need to gather in front of the TV set to watch things happen anymore.  I know most of us have a device on which we can watch the Feinstein-de Leon "discussion" if we choose (and if our bosses will let us---mine actually will insist).  But capability isn't the same as delivery.  Ten a.m. on a Monday and noon on a Wednesday on public radio and the internet aren't going to deliver----no, wrong word---make that serve---the number of Californians that 8:00 p.m. on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX TV stations around the state would. 

It's not debatable.  We deserve so much better.

Mike Hagerty

Mike Hagerty

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