September 25, 2012

Editorial: Room for Debate

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As this November’s election nears, it has become abundantly clear that one of the most contentious races for the House of Representatives is our very own — New York’s 23rd District. The district is new, the result of redistricting from the 2010 census. The contestants for the seat are Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y. 29) and his Democratic opponent, Tompkins County Legislator Nate Shinagawa ’05 M.A. ’09.

With a race as close as this, the importance of each vote will be magnified. It is imperative that voters do all they can to educate themselves on the positions of each candidate. The best possible forum for candidates to present contrasting opinions is a public debate. Unfortunately, Reed’s reluctance to publicly debate Shinagawa does a disservice to voters in this important election.

Several organizations, including The Sun, have attempted to coordinate debates between Shinagawa and Reed. So far, of the nine debates accepted by the Shinagawa campaign, only three were also accepted by the Reed campaign. In two other instances, both campaigns accepted, but later the Reed campaign backed out.

The three debates that were mutually agreed upon by the candidates will be hosted by Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y., the Jamestown Post-Journal and WETM-TV, a television station only available to residents of Chemung, Schuyler and Steuben counties. Unfortunately, these debates all fail to reach a Tompkins County audience.

The lack of a public debate in Tompkins County is not due to a lack of organizations willing to host it. Instead, the absence of a debate is direct result of the Reed campaign’s refusal to accommodate it. For example, both candidates were invited to participate in a debate on WSYR-TV and its sister stations, that would have reached most residents of the district, including those in Tompkins County. The Shinagawa campaign accepted the offer and the Reed campaign declined it.

It is concerning is that voters in Ithaca, the second-most populous city in the district, will have no access to a congressional debate. It would be understandable if Congress was in session and Reed could not fit the debates into his schedule, but the fact that Congress is on recess for almost all of October shows the extent to which these debates take a low priority for his campaign.

In an election year that seems to rely more on personal rhetoric and less on political platforms, public debates are important for keeping the focus on what really matters. The Reed campaign is denying a large number of voters the ability to inform themselves and engage in the democratic process.