Merkley and Wehby need to have debates

Oregon voters are entitled to see their candidates in relatively unrehearsed situations. Public speeches and news coverage of them are fine but structured, and advertising is, by definition, a carefully controlled attempt either to make yourself look good or the other guy look bad.

Debates are another matter. Candidates cannot control the questions, and they cannot simply cut off discussion of a subject if they wish to do so.

That lack of control gives voters the opportunity to decide for themselves if candidates understand the issues, if they are composed on their feet and if their positions resonate with those listening. A good debate can provide valuable insight that’s difficult to get in any other setting.

In Oregon. no debates have actually been locked in for either of the statewide races, the one for the U.S. Senate and the one for governor. Gov. John Kitzhaber has proposed five head-to-head meetings. Meanwhile, state Rep. Dennis Richardson, the Central Point Republican who hopes to replace Kitzhaber, a Democrat, has agreed in principle to the idea, but no firm dates have been set.

And it’s why it’s so important for Dr. Monica Wehby and Sen. Jeff Merkley to face each other at least two — and preferably more — times this fall in direct debate. Merkley has proposed two such meetings, one in Portland and the other in Medford. Wehby’s staff has yet to sign off on the proposal.

Not surprisingly, we’d favor adding at least one session on the dry side of the state, where too many voters already have difficulty seeing statewide candidates anywhere but in the pages of the newspaper or on the nightly news. For now, however, an agreement on any debates is better than no agreement at all.

Clearly, what’s good for voters may be less so for the candidates themselves. Warts show in such situations, as does a candidate’s lack of understanding the issues.

Yet voters have a right to see those warts before they cast their ballots. Local candidates are pretty good about scheduling direct meetings with one another. We’re waiting for the statewide candidates to get on the ball and do likewise.