About that 1st District debate | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

About that 1st District debate

Posted By on Wed, Mar 31, 2010 at 11:41 AM

More, much more, from Democratic candidate Ben Ponder on the still unscheduled debates for candidates in the Democratic primary race for 1st District Congress to succeed Rep. Marion Berry.


Because of the timing of Congressman Berry’s retirement announcement,
this is an extremely compressed primary campaign schedule. Everything
moves very fast. Unfortunately, there is no independent “Commission on
Congressional Debates” to serve as an intermediary between the
campaigns. The media organizations, which normally would set up the
debates, are hampered by a lack of time and resources and the
challenge of coordination between six hectic campaigns. This is the
“state of the debates” for the Democrats in District 1:

In mid-February, I conferred with Chad Causey, and we agreed that it
would be a good idea to debate the issues in a series of public
forums. On March 9, the Causey campaign issued a press release calling
for a series of three debates before the May 18 primary election. In
that release, he called for “an open and honest discussion about the
issues facing Arkansans.” A flurry of emails to the press ensued. But
then two weeks passed without communication between the campaigns. My
campaign manager then spoke with Chad’s campaign manager, and it
became evident that little progress had been made toward scheduling
the debates—primarily because of a lack of responsiveness from the
other campaigns. It became clear to me that unless one of the
candidates took on this issue personally that the primary would come
and go without Arkansas voters getting the chance to hear the
Democratic Congressional candidates’ views and positions on the

I took on that challenge—in the midst of conducting a busy campaign
myself—because political debates are fundamental to the process of
free and fair elections upon which our democracy is established. We
are not running for Senior Class President where the election is a
referendum on our popularity or coolness. We are running for the
United States Congress. After the general election in November,
Arkansas’ First District will send a new congressman to Washington,
someone who has never before served in that office. We are all
unproven in that regard. Our new congressman will not be judged on his
or her ability to shake hands and smile for cameras. Our next
congressman will be judged on his or her ability to grasp and
articulate the urgent issues affecting our nation and to work
effectively for positive change on behalf of constituents in Arkansas’
First District. How will voters know which of the candidates will do
that most forcefully without our debating the issues and answering
hard questions during the primary? And let me stress: candidate “meet
and greets,” though valuable, are no substitute for substantive

I have personally spoken with a representative of each campaign and
most of the candidates themselves on multiple occasions as I’ve worked
to set a framework for the debates. We were originally trying to
schedule the first debate as early as this week, but we switched the
date when it became clear that multiple candidates had a conflict. We
were unaware of any potential conflicts with the Bryles and Wooldridge
campaigns because we never received word back from them—phone calls
were not returned and emails were not replied to.

I am serving the voters of the First District and also my fellow
candidates by facilitating the scheduling of these debates. The
insinuation that I have somehow commandeered the campaign schedule is
both inaccurate and disingenuous. I have worked closely and
collaboratively with each of the campaigns to the extent that they
would reciprocate. I have personally coordinated with the Baxter
County Democrats, ASU Mountain Home, KTLO, the Baxter Bulletin, the
Jonesboro Sun, the ASU Jonesboro Political Science Department, the
Young Democrats of Arkansas, the Lonoke Leadership Class, and with our
peer campaigns. I have sent out a general framework for the debates to
the other campaigns for their ideas, feedback, and assistance in

With regard to the first debate in Mountain Home, I received advance
commitments from ASU Mountain Home, the Baxter County Democrats, KTLO,
and the Baxter Bulletin that they would serve as hosts or sponsors.
Each organization was thrilled to participate. The press release from
my campaign was designed to assist those organizations with getting
the word out, not to commit them to anything new or different. I
apologize for the inadvertent early timing of the release from our
campaign and if the prose regarding the debate was unclear. We did not
intend to imply that the candidates had committed formally to the
debate but rather that the debate was geared specifically for the
Democratic field (an issue that had arisen in the planning of other
debates). I have coordinated with each of the campaigns and had
received word from the Causey, Cook, and Green campaigns that they
were eager to participate in this first debate. Our campaign (as did
others) committed early on to proceeding with any debate if we had
four candidates able to attend.

With that said, I have communicated with each of the campaigns and
have offered to reschedule the Mountain Home debate to ensure that all
six candidates are able to attend. Our campaigns are currently working
to coordinate the dates of the debates (including the one in Baxter
County) to guarantee maximum participation. When that date is set, the
host organizations and/or media sponsors will issue formal invitations
and a press release.

We’ve gotten the ball rolling with this first debate in Mountain Home,
and we welcome the involvement of the other campaigns in coordinating
the details of subsequent debates. Currently, I know that debates in
Jonesboro, Lonoke, and West Memphis are in the works. Because the
campaigns were not initially involved in the scheduling of the
debates, there quickly arose a conflict between the Jonesboro and
Lonoke debates. I have personally worked to resolve this conflict so
that both debates can proceed. I have also reached out to my fellow
candidates and encouraged them to set up a debate with media coverage
in their respective parts of the district. Anders Reynolds from the
Causey campaign has graciously agreed to coordinate a debate in
eastern Arkansas tentatively scheduled for April 29. In the event that
other debates are scheduled in Blytheville, Paragould, Williford, or
anywhere else, I will make every effort to adjust my campaign calendar
in order to attend. If I cannot attend personally, I will make sure to
send a trusted representative of my campaign to participate in my

That’s where we are as of March 31. In the event that we cannot get
100% participation in future debates because of scheduling conflicts,
I hope that any candidates who are unable to attend will value the
process and the voters enough to send a representative to the debate.
Whether in Mountain Home or in any other part of the district, our
campaign is eager to engage in a frank discussion about the values,
ideas, and solutions that will best represent Arkansans in Washington.

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