Chieftain should reconsider its decision to exclude Casida from debate

The Pueblo Chieftain has excluded independent candidate Tisha Casida from a Chieftain-sponsored debate Oct. 10 featuring 3rd congressional district candidates Scott Tipton, a Republican, and Democrat Sal Pace.

“Voters want to hear from the candidates who do have a chance,” the Chieftain’s Managing Editor Steve Henson wrote in an email to Casida. “And we feel that we are reflecting the desires of our area voters and readers to focus on the candidates of the major parties.”

It’s a strange position for a newspaper to take, running contrary to journalism’s core job of airing out ideas, no matter how unpopular or meek.

But, it’s also true that a debate could get so diluted and unwieldy with lots of candidates on stage that voters would get little or nothing out of it.

So, if I were running a debate, I’d take a practical approach and see how many legitimate candidates, like Casida, wanted to participate and go from there.

If there were too many candidates, like there were during those loony GOP presidential debates recently, and I had no way of knowing which ones were most viable, I’d rotate them in and out. If there were only three or four legitimate candidates on the ballot, I’d include all of them them.

“You’re coming at it from the perspective of putting all the ideas out there,” Henson told me when I suggested this to him. “Our perspective reflects the wishes of our readers.” (He added that the Chieftain has given Casida a fair shake on its news pages, and this appears to me to be true.)

Henson says third-party or other candidates have gotten scant support over many years in southern Colorado.

“If a Libertarian were to get 15 percent of the vote in this election, they’d probably be included in our debate in the next election,” he said. “But that just hasn’t happened. It has nothing to do with the expression of ideas. For us, it’s really a numbers issue.”

The business organization, Club 20, apparently agrees with me that in an election debate, ideas should trump numbers, as Casida was included in the Sept. 9 Club 20 debate in Grand Junction, standing between Pace and Tipton on stage. The event worked just fine, I thought.

In a statement, Casida stated: “It is disappointing to be excluded from a debate in which we do represent a population of voters, and it is my hometown where I was born and raised, which is disheartening. I have worked very hard to petition onto the ballot and be a part of the process, to have a voice and be a voice for people who are frustrated with both Republicans and Democrats.”

Henson’s full statement, which he e-mailed to Casida, follows:

Henson: The Chieftain has not included third-party or independent or write-in candidates for political office because Pueblo and Southern Colorado voters historically have not supported them at the polls. Such candidates typically receive less than 10 percent and often less than 5 percent of the total votes cast.

In other words, frankly, area voters have made it clear that they will not elect a candidate who is not Democrat or Republican. Unless that situation changes, we will not include other candidates in our forums because it takes valuable time away from those candidates who have a legitimate chance of being elected.

Voters want to hear from the candidates who do have a chance, and we feel that we are reflecting the desires of our area voters and readers to focus on the candidates of the major parties.

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