Two years ago, Idaho Lt. Gov. Jim Risch demanded that he be able to appear alone on the “Idaho Debates,” sponsored by the League of Women Voters, Idaho Press Club and Idaho Public Television, answer questions, and then leave the studio before his opponent appeared. When the debate sponsors refused, Risch skipped the traditional debate and appeared only on one sponsored by a Boise TV station with a more controlled format. Now, he’s doing the same in his run for the U.S. Senate. The crowded GOP primary race is scheduled to be featured on the Idaho Debates on May 22; it’ll go on without Risch.
In a press release, Risch said, “We have an excellent group of candidates seeking the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate. I look forward to a positive and constructive discussion of the important issues facing Idaho and America today. The KTVB format has proven to be the best format for undecided voters to judge the candidates’ positions on issues.” In letter to the League of Women Voters, Risch’s campaign spokesman, his son Jason, criticized the Idaho Debates for allowing “cross talk” among the candidates.
The Idaho Debates sponsors issued the following statement:
"We are obviously disappointed; we believe our format is an actual debate, one that benefits Idaho voters interested in seeing the candidates, a format that's been tested and has worked over many decades in both primaries and general elections. Despite Mr. Risch's refusal to participate, our debate will be held as scheduled. It will air live, statewide, on Thursday May 22 at 8 p.m. Mountain time, 7 p.m. Pacific."
Full disclosure here: I’m the president of the Idaho Press Club, which has been one of the three sponsors of the Idaho Debates for the past four decades (since long before my tenure). Last week, when I interviewed Risch about his campaign for the U.S. Senate, he told me he’d always debate his political opponents, but that his idea of a debate is that a question is asked by a third party, each candidate responds separately, and then they move on to the next question. “I want to make sure that you explain this to your readers, that I am running a positive campaign,” Risch said. “I am not running a campaign where I’m going to engage in responding to allegations from someone else. … I don’t do that.”