The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

September 19, 2010

Carol Stark: No candidates, no forum

— When the Globe decided to hold a forum for 10 candidates vying for the party nod in the 7th Congressional District, I thought it would be like pulling teeth to get them all to agree to attend.

I’ll even admit to thinking it might be a juggling act if indeed they all did show up. But, I give those 10 credit. They showed up everywhere in the days leading up to the primary and after the July 20 forum, and thanked us for the opportunity. We didn’t have to twist arms or negotiate. We simply sent out the invitation.

Our plans to hold a forum for the candidates running in the U.S. Senate race have not fared as well. The event has been in the planning stages locally since early May. And, yes, I knew it might be a long shot. But it was a shot worth taking, and not for the newspaper or for the candidates but for the Joplin area and its voters.

You see, when it comes to the “big shows,” we get left off the map. During the presidential campaign, candidates would make it as far as Springfield, as if the state ended there.

Republican Rep. Roy Blunt, of Springfield, who has served in the U.S. House since 1996, swings through the Joplin area frequently and has continued to do so as he campaigns. And, since she announced her candidacy, Democrat Robin Carnahan, the current Missouri secretary of state, has made the Joplin area a destination. Susan Redden, our political writer, says she’s heard “nary a peep” from Libertarian Jonathan Dine, Riverside, or Jerry Beck, La Monte, the Constitution candidate.

We think bringing all four of those candidates together for one evening of questions and discourse would serve our area in a way no amount of campaign stumping ever will.

Apparently so did a lot of other people.

Southwest Area Manufacturers Association, based in Springfield, pledged funding for the event, as did the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce. I want to thank both of these organizations. They would have made it possible for us to have held the event in Taylor Auditorium at Missouri Southern State University, where we could have provided a great learning opportunity, as well as compensation, for communication students. The university’s television station, KGCS, also would have benefited from the forum. After each of the past two forums they have assisted the Globe with, they have been able to purchase field cameras for the department.

We also want to thank John Hoffman, general manager for KSNF-TV. During negotiations, campaign managers in Carnahan’s camp asked for television coverage both in the Joplin and Springfield markets. Hoffman contacted KSN’s sister station KOLR in Springfield, and brought that all together.

At this writing, the only agreed-upon forum by at least both Blunt and Carnahan is one being held by the Missouri Press Association in mid-October. David Lieb, of The Associated Press, will moderate. He will pitch the first question. Then four editors of MPA member newspapers will be allowed to put out a question. The Globe is an MPA member and I plan to be on hand to provide coverage for our readers.

I’m still puzzled as to why this event didn’t happen. Tony Wyche, Carnahan’s campaign manager, said at least 40 invitations had been issued for forums or debates. Shortly after the primary, Wyche said his staff and Blunt’s campaign staff were trying to come to terms as to what invitations they would accept.

Wyche, after we assured him of television coverage out of Joplin and Springfield, said that Carnahan would accept. Rich Chrismer, with Blunt’s campaign, did not decline our invitation. In fact he told me that Blunt had not declined any of the invitations.

But, I didn’t get the yes I needed to move forward.

The forum would have offered voters a chance to see how the individual candidates handled questions in an environment that wasn’t controlled by their staffs. It’s different than watching a campaign commercial or a carefully planned rally appearance. While the MPA forum will be a good one, it’s not public.

I actually thought the candidates would jump at a chance to go head-to-head in a forum that I’m sure would have brought out a large audience of engaged voters. Isn’t that the idea behind running for office?

I suppose, though, things could be worse. After all, my invitation wasn’t “declined.”

Carol Stark is editor of The Joplin Globe. Address correspondence to her, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, Mo. 64802 or e-mail cstark@joplinglobe.com.

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