Gov. Jim Risch, responding this morning to questions about his campaign’s terse announcement Friday that he’s refusing to participate in the “Idaho Debates,” sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Idaho Press Club and broadcast statewide on Idaho Public Television: “We have agreed to do a debate – that’s all I’m going to say about it. … We chose to do one. That’s all the time we have. I’m busy with running the state government.”
Risch’s campaign said he’d debate election opponent Larry LaRocco, who’s challenging Risch’s bid for another term as lieutenant governor, in a forum sponsored by Boise TV station KTVB and Northwest Nazarene University instead. Jason Risch, Risch’s son and campaign manager, said in a Friday letter to debate organizers: “Unfortunately the Governor’s schedule does not allow him to accept every invitation. As a result we must make a choice as to which event we feel will be the most productive to communicate the candidates various positions to the voters of the State of Idaho. We have concluded that a debate sponsored by KTVB and NNU is the event most appropriate for that purpose.”
Idaho Public TV is the only television network that broadcasts into all parts of Idaho, though some commercial stations, including KTVB, have affiliates in several parts of the state.
In response to reporters’ questions today, Risch said, “We picked the one we thought would be the best format to get the word out to Idaho people.” He noted that the KTVB debate will be made available on the Internet. His campaign said he and LaRocco would appear together in that forum.
Risch refused to answer questions about why he asked the Idaho Debates organizers to change their format for the lieutenant governor debate only, to interview each candidate separately for 30 minutes, and have neither on the set while the other is being questioned. Political debates – including the Idaho Debates – typically feature the candidates facing off so voters can compare them.
LaRocco told the Associated Press, “It’s a perplexing decision, and it’s a shame because Idaho’s voters are the losers. … He’s basically cheated the people of Idaho out of hearing the debate over the second-highest position in Idaho government.”
Full disclosure here: I’m the president of the Idaho Press Club. That means I’m involved in the Idaho Debates, on which the three organizations have worked together every election cycle for the past 30 years. The Press Club, which is Idaho’s statewide association of working reporters from all media, co-sponsors political debates as a public service and in the interest of freedom of information.
Risch said he’s making himself widely available to the media and the public around the state, and dismissed LaRocco’s continuing contentions that he’s using his current position as governor to campaign for lieutenant governor on the public’s dime. “Any time you run against an incumbent you wind up with a situation like that,” Risch said. “Last time I ran, I ran against an incumbent and I didn’t whine at all.”