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Jim Camden: Rude audience did disservice to debate

Sun., Oct. 15, 2006

Candidates often have rules for debates that govern how long they talk at the beginning and the end, and how long the answer and rebuttal to questions can be.

Maybe it’s time to start thinking of rules for debate audiences. Here’s a real simple one: Show a little class, and if you can’t, show some respect.

Class and respect were definitely in short supply in the audience last Wednesday night when Commissioner Phil Harris debated Democratic challenger Bonnie Mager at The Met, at a forum hosted by KSFC and KPBX radio stations.

(Important journalistic disclosure: I was a member of the panel asking questions. I wouldn’t be allowed to write a news story about the debate, but this is an opinion in a column.)

The crowd heavily favored Mager, which was clear when the microphones were opened to the audience – both from the pointed questions asked of Harris and the buttons, stickers and, in at least one case, a Mager campaign T-shirt, that audience members were sporting.

That could have been a minor point, because it was radio, after all, and no one listening at home or in the car could see what they were wearing.

But listeners could hear the boos, jeers and catcalls when the crowd disagreed with something Harris said.

Well shucks, you might be saying.

This debate’s put on and promoted on the local public radio stations, and you just gotta know it would draw an overabundance of granola-munching, natural-fiber-wearing, environmental-activist liberals.

What else would old conservative Republican Phil expect?

Turns out the crowd may have been fed in part by a Mager campaign alert, e-mailed earlier in the day, emphatically pleading “We need you there!” and asking supporters to “change your schedule if need be.”

“We need to have a large enough presence in the audience to make her feel comfortable that the crowd is not slanted against her,” it said. “And hopefully a large enough crowd to dominate the questions by our sheer numbers … questions which are geared to allow Bonnie to shine and place her opponent on the defensive.”

The e-mail also claimed Harris would have “his people there asking Bonnie questions intended to trip her up.” That wasn’t true, based on the questions that were asked. Whether it was because – as Harris said at the debate – he doesn’t pack crowds, or because his folks couldn’t get to the microphone, the overall result was the same.

It was tacky, and both candidates deserved better.

Speaking of debates

Interesting things happen at debates that don’t find their way into the next day’s news accounts. Take the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce debate on Friday between Cathy McMorris and Peter Goldmark.

One of the biggest moments of applause went to someone who wasn’t even on the podium.

When he was talking about the need to take better care of veterans, Goldmark asked Ian Anderson, a Marine who’d served in Iraq and been shot five times, to stand up. Looking a little sheepish, the 25-year-old Anderson stood up, and the crowd of about 200 gave him a big ovation. Which, without question, he deserved.

A bit later McMorris managed to pull rank on Goldmark when talking about military issues.

He said he recently had talked to Col. Scott Hanson, Fairchild’s wing commander, about coming changes at the base.

McMorris said she talked with Gen. Duncan McNabb, head of the Air Mobility Command, and received assurances the first of the new tankers will be sent to the base.

They’re catching on

After last week’s chiding that the Goldmark campaign forgot Rule 1 of political debates in their first congressional matchup, it seems only fair to note that they issued a press release claiming victory for him hours before McMorris’ people claimed victory for her.

Catch the candidates

Today: Taped radio debates of Spokane County commissioner and 6th District state Senate candidates. 2 p.m., KSFC FM 91.9

Monday: Spokane Area Community of Color forum for county, legislative and some federal candidates. 7 p.m., Room 110, Jundt Art Building, GU.

Tuesday: Web cast of Spokesman-Review editorial board interview of 5th District congressional candidates. 1:30 p.m.,

Wednesday: 5th District congressional candidates in radio debate. 8 a.m., KXLY AM 920.

6th District state Senate debate at the Spokane City Forum. Noon, 1st Presbyterian Church, 318 S. Cedar. $10 includes lunch, (509) 777-1555 for information.

Chase Youth Issues forum for 3rd and 6th legislative candidates, county commisioner and congressional candidates, plus mock vote. 4 p.m., Council Chambers, Spokane City Hall.

Televised U.S. Senate debate, 6:30 p.m., KREM-TV Channel 2.

League of Women Voters town hall meeting for legislative and county candidates. 7 p.m., Downtown Spokane Library.

Thursday: Televised 5th District congressional debate. 7 p.m., KSPS-TV Channel 7.

Interfaith workshop on state initiatives. 7 p.m., Spokane Friends Church, 1612 W. Dalke.

Friday: Spokane judicial candidates forum. 9 p.m. KSPS-TV Channel 7.


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