The Kansas Press Association is in a huff, because none of the Republican gubernatorial frontrunners showed up to its debate. Most GOP candidates signed a pledge with the state GOP agreeing not to attend forums that didn’t meet a series of agreed upon guidelines.
The guidelines set the date for the first sanctioned forum. Signatories to the agreement couldn’t participate in a debate scheduled prior to Feb. 17.
“As a journalist, and all of us as journalists, I’m appalled that party trumps allowing people to hear a message in an open forum such as we have today,” KPA Executive Director Doug Anstaett said.
Journalists should have requested a copy of the agreement. They chose instead to spread a nefarious misconception that GOP candidates are avoiding the press.
The headlines suggest that most Kansas Republicans candidates “shunned” the KPA event, because they were “stiff-armed” into signing the debate agreement. The GOP candidates were keeping their word not to participate in a forum prior to Feb. 17.
Independent gubernatorial candidate Greg Orman also skipped the press association’s event, but he isn’t mentioned in the headlines.
Republican candidate Jim Barnett didn’t sign the debate agreement and he attended KPA forum on Friday. He added to the misconception by suggesting the GOP debate agreement is “rigged to protect just a few.”
The agreement requires that debate questions be geared toward specific issues and not individuals. Candidates are not allowed to engage in personal attacks, and the guidelines require that each candidate receives the same number of questions and the same amount of time to answer and rebut.
Kansas GOP agreement signers Gov. Jeff Colyer, Wink Hartman, Mark Hutton, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and Kansas Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer will take part in the GOP’s inaugural gubernatorial debate on Feb. 17 in Wichita. The debate will be televised on KGPT 26 and available on 1480 AM.
The agreement doesn’t preclude future forums. It allows up to two debates before June 1 and two debates after June 1, but another debate can be added with the approval of all signatories.
GOP candidates shouldn’t be faulted for skipping a debates for an audience of journalists in the future, after reading the spin the media put on candidates simply keeping their promise. Reporters and editors aren’t likely to vote for a in a Republican primary anyway.
According to a 2013 study, only 7.1 percent of full-time U.S. journalists are Republicans. Not many people in the room at KPA’s debate are likely to be eligible to vote in the Kansas Republican primary. It doesn’t make any sense for a Republican candidate to waste time playing to a roomful of people who aren’t likely to cast ballots in the primary election.
The frontrunner Republican candidates spent time this weekend with people who might actually reward them with a vote in August. Most of the Kansas GOP candidates attended the Pottawatomie County Republican Party Founder’s Day spaghetti feed in Wamego on Saturday. The event wasn’t a debate, but candidates had opportunities to address the crowd of likely Republican voters.
Had media requested a copy of the GOP debate rules, they would recognize the forum itself and the audience weren’t the problem. It was the date. Unfortunately, media decided to spin it as if the Republican Party is attempting to prevent the public and the press from having access to the candidates. For shame.