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Editorial: Incumbent disappoints in decision to not debate

In 16 years as an elected public official, Cathy McMorris Rodgers has stood by a belief that government should answer to the people.

Yet Eastern Washington’s Republican congresswoman now chooses not to let her constituents see her and her Democratic challenger, Daryl Romeyn, debate this year’s campaign issues face to face.

Elections give voters an opportunity to evaluate their elected representative’s performance at regular intervals. A campaign gives them a chance to compare her with an alternative candidate. McMorris Rodgers has fared well under this system, having logged five legislative and three congressional victories. And she’s been willing to debate her opponents in the past.

Not this year, though.

The failure to debate has been laid to “scheduling constraints” and some initial uncertainty as to whether former television personality Romeyn was a “serious” candidate.

The explanations are not convincing. There was never any doubt that McMorris Rodgers would have some opponent (whose seriousness should be up to the voters, not her), and schedules can be rearranged to accommodate appearances if a candidate wants to make them.

There have always been some candidates who avoided debates. Washington’s legendary Sen. Warren G. Magnuson, for example. In contrast, former House Speaker Tom Foley, one of McMorris Rodgers’ predecessors in the 5th District, welcomed debates.

We wouldn’t expect McMorris Rodgers and Romeyn to match the 11 debates Democrat Foley and Republican John Sonneland held in 1980, but the current incumbent’s unwillingness makes her look evasive and unsure of herself. As someone who seems to be rising within her caucus leadership, she should be eager to make her case in public and in the presence of her opponent.

Admittedly, some debates are more enlightening than others, but that’s a judgment for voters to render.

We have published our endorsement for McMorris Rodgers’ election to a fourth term, and we stand by it. We consider her political philosophy and preparation better for the 5th Congressional District than Romeyn’s. Which just makes it all the more puzzling that she isn’t eager to showcase her strengths.

But that’s our point of view. The choice that matters is the one the people will make on Nov. 2, and they deserve more than stump speeches, mailings and TV sound bites on which to base a sound decision.

Rival candidates, sharing a stage, have the capacity to challenge each other while demonstrating their own readiness to be challenged and their fitness to answer. A politician who answers to the public should embrace the opportunity.

It’s a transparency thing.

We’re disappointed

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