The first debate in the race for Oregon governor is scheduled for Sept. 24 in Bend. We couldn’t be happier that voters will get to hear Democratic Gov. Kate Brown and Republican Bud Pierce debate with a focus on rural issues.
Then we wondered why the Independent Party of Oregon candidate Cliff Thomason was not included.
He should have been.
Oregon’s Independent Party is smaller than the Democratic and Republican parties. Democrats held the lead in party registration in May with more than 955,979 registered voters, followed by Republicans with 688,629, and the Independents with 104,675.
But Oregon’s Independent Party is recognized by the state of Oregon as a major political party. State law grants a party major status if it had 5 percent of the voters in the last general election. The Democratic, Republican and Independent parties all met that threshold.
So why was a major party left out of the debate?
The debate was organized by the Oregon Territory Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, which represents some journalists in Oregon and Vancouver, Washington. John Sepulvado, the host of Weekend Edition on Oregon Public Broadcasting, told us he made the decision.
We want to be clear that he made the decision. It was not a decision by the broader journalism group or OPB. He said he could not speak about the debate negotiations with the Brown and Pierce campaigns because they were confidential.
Sepulvado told us he believed it was important for Brown and Pierce to agree to a debate. He thought it would be easier to get Brown and Pierce to say yes if they were the only candidates invited. He said the Independent Party “does not seem quite ready for primetime.”
There is indeed a decision that has to be made about any debate. Which candidates do you invite? What’s a logical place to draw the line? Inviting all the major party candidates is much more defensible than what Sepulvado chose.
He also effectively chose to reinforce Oregon’s status quo. The Democratic and Republican parties have done a lot for Oregon. But the state is also struggling on any number of indicators compared to other states, particularly in educating children. Isn’t it a good idea to at least listen to some alternative ways of thinking?
We asked Sal Peralta, the secretary of the Independent Party of Oregon.
“The press should be seeking to educate voters about all of the choices rather than restricting the debate to just the two establishment candidates,” he wrote. “This kind of thing justifies public cynicism towards the basic institutions of our democracy, including the press.”