Local members of Congress skip TV debates listen10/08/08 Mitch E. Perry
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:
Today two local Congressional candidates called on a public television station to provide a full opportunity for them to be seen and heard by the public.
WEDU, the local Public Broadcasting System affiliate, has canceled televised debates because they say the incumbents, Ginny Brown-Waite and Gus Bilirakis, have declined to participate.
A representative from the television station said today that the candidates would be offered time to appear on a show that would include political analysts in a show that still has yet to be formed.
John Russell is a Democrat running against Brown-Waite in Florida’s 5th District, which encompasses parts of eight counties, including Pasco and Hernando. On a conference call today, he said WEDU was going against its policy of giving challengers full 30-minute access on their station if their opponent cancels on a debate appearance.
After the incumbents refused to debate, representatives from the TV station told the challengers that they would provide them two minutes of air time, and then augment their program with political analysis by a group of reporters and academics.
But Eddie Adams Jr., a Republican running against Kathy Castor in the Tampa area, said that wasn’t good enough.
At the time of the call, Adams said Castor had not agreed to a debate. But a spokesman for Castor told WMNF later in the day that the congresswoman would debate on television.
WEDU had hoped to broadcast 30-minute debates between the major candidates in all of the Congressional races in the Tampa Bay area. But among incumbents, only Polk County Republican Adam Putnam has so far agreed to debate his Democratic challenger.
Adams said the strategy was typical of an incumbent candidate, but added that with Congress’s popularity ratings in the tank, it was another reason why they might not want to meet the press.
Later in the conference call, Laura Turner, vice president of Communications for WEDU, said she shared the congressional challengers' frustration.
But Turner then said WEDU was not locked into the original idea of only giving the candidates two minute of airtime.
Other candidates affected include Democratic Congressional challengers Bill Mitchell in District 9 and Bob Hackworth in District 10. Mitchell canceled appearing on the call at the last moment.
Turner said Vice President of Production Jack Conley, currently on vacation, could agree to changing the format.