Five men who would like to be president - but must be considered the longest of long shots - will discuss the nation’s cities and its environment tonight.
They’ll do it in Spokane, a spot that doesn’t usually play a pivotal role in choosing the next president. They’ll be part of an untested proposal to shift the emphasis of the presidential campaign, the CityVote straw poll.
They’ll do it despite the hostile indifference of the national Democratic and Republican parties and the more recognizable candidates. They will share their time in the spotlight with a candidate who will be present only by telephone, the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
But at least Jackson and the five candidates present will have their chance to address questions about environmental issues, organizers of the forum say.
Republicans Art Fletcher and Chuck Collins, independent Democrat Lyndon LaRouche, Libertarian Harry Browne and Natural Law candidate John Hagelin will field questions from a man who may be more recognizable than all five of them.
Broadcast journalist Sander Vanocur, a veteran of the 1960 debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, will moderate the panel discussion. He will ask a series of questions developed in backyard forums in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene by readers of The Spokesman-Review.
Before that, however, the forum’s organizers will discuss the problem that has plagued CityVote from the beginning - breaking through an established campaign process that pays little attention to anything outside of Iowa and New Hampshire.
Some 18 cities around the country will ask their voters to chose from a list of 21 announced or potential presidential candidates on Nov. 7. The voting is the first “ballot test” for the candidates, although it has no bearing on the parties’ nominations.
Larry Agran, executive director of CityVote, championed the straw poll, and a series of candidate forums the organization tried to schedule as a way of focusing attention on urban issues.
But two of three forums were canceled, and most candidates refused to attend the Spokane event.
Forum organizers say the concept is still a good one.
“I see it as changing the status quo,” said Pam Behring, president of the League of Women Voters of Spokane. “By the time the primaries begin, most of the country has had little opportunity for input.”
Editor Chris Peck of The Spokesman-Review, which is co-sponsoring the debate, said that while the major candidates did not embrace the forum, the public did. More than 100 groups participated in The Ice Cream Conferences, self-directed backyard gatherings that developed questions about the environment for the candidates.
Vanocur will ask those questions during the candidates session.
Appearing live at the debate will be:
Fletcher, a former Republican candidate for Washington lieutenant governor who now serves on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. A member of the Reagan and Bush administrations, Fletcher once ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Washington, D.C., and is just getting his campaign off the ground.
Collins, a rancher and developer from Panama City, Fla., wants to abolish the income tax and the Internal Revenue Service. Letting the public keep that money will spark an economic boom, he says. Meanwhile, the government should abolish the Environmental Protection Agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Department of Education.
LaRouche has run for president every four years since 1976, when he was the candidate for the Labor Party. In recent years he has listed himself as an independent Democrat, while the Democratic Party has disavowed any connection to him. He believes a worldwide financial collapse is imminent and contends that House Speaker Newt Gingrich, with help from financial backers in London, is out to destroy the United States.
Browne is an investment adviser and the author of the best-selling book “You Can Profit from a Monetary Crisis.” He contends that the federal government doesn’t work, and would reduce it by two-thirds. He would also eliminate the income tax, replacing it with a national 5 percent sales tax.
Hagelin, one of the few candidates to visit Spokane this election season, is a Ph.D. physicist who stresses politics without conflict, prevention-oriented government and bringing the country into harmony with natural law. He also proposes transcendental meditation as a way to keep felons from committing crimes after they are released from prison and to ease urban tensions.
Jackson, who has been mentioned as a possible independent candidate for president, currently heads the Rainbow Coalition, an umbrella organization for different minority groups. He was one of the first to commit to attend the CityVote forums, but canceled his appearance last week because of scheduling conflicts.
But spokesman Larry Coban said Jackson was disappointed that President Clinton and the major Republican candidates are refusing to debate urban issues. He has agreed to participate through a telephone satellite hookup, to address the same questions put to the candidates at the Ag Trade Center.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: CITYVOTE The 90-minute forum will begin at 6 p.m., at the Ag Trade Center. Tickets, which are $10 each, will be available at the door.