The Tennessee election season has entered its final weeks, and some citizens are just now getting around to paying attention. It’s a pity that they face a dearth of candidate appearances; and when they do hear from or about one, they might not be able to trust the information.
Republican House of Representatives candidate Charles Williamson, of “bison poop” fame, says he is not behind a recent round of negative robo-calls aimed against his Democratic opponent, incumbent District 51 Rep. Mike Turner. Williamson’s campaign says he “has held fast to a ‘no-mudslinging’ rule and demanded the same of his staff and volunteers. He has also promised no robotic telemarketing.”
“If voters get a call from my campaign,” Williamson says, “It will be from a real human who can answer questions and thoroughly engage in conversation. I hate robo-calls and they are not a part of this campaign plan.”
This year, voters are having a hard time hearing from candidates in another expected format. Yes, we’re talking about debates. In the Third Congressional District, Republican nominee Chuck Fleischmann is taking heat from the Democrat and from the independents for not agreeing to debate them. A second “LiberTea” debate will be held Saturday, October 16, at the Woodland Park Baptist Church site that hosted the first one. Unlike the first one, Fleischmann will not be there. Democratic candidate John Wolfe, and independents Mark DeVol and Savas Kyriakidis are expected to attend.
Voters in the Eighth Congressional District are missing out, too. Some place the blame on GOP nominee Stephen Fincher, and say he is the one avoiding his opponents in a head-to-head verbal contest. A debate that had been scheduled for today (Tuesday, October 5) at Union University in Jackson has been canceled, and is replaced with solo appearances by each candidate. At this writing, no other debates are scheduled in the district.
Gubernatorial candidate and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam agreed to three debates against his chief opponent, Jackson businessman Mike McWherter; but additional events had already been planned, or were in the works, and Haslam has no plans to attend those. The Chattanooga Young Professionals chapter is putting on its second annual “Drink and Debate” on Thursday, October 14. According to the YPAC press announcement, McWherter is scheduled to attend, along with independent candidates Bayron Binkley, Brandon Dodds, Samuel Duck, David Gatchell, June Griffin (Prohibition Party), Howard Switzer (Green Party), and Carl Whitaker. (Note: Duck and Whitaker have recently dropped out and endorsed Dodds.) Unfortunately for YPAC, their first “Drink and Debate” was similarly lacking a key candidate: Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield had a conflict, which left Rob Healy and Thomas Smith II (who’s now on the ballot for governor, by the way, but apparently not debating) to bedazzle the curious yupsters.
Not to be left out, Democratic state Rep. Jimmy Naifeh is accused of ducking debates by his opponent, Jim Hardin, who said he is “far from shocked.” “I think the last thing Mr. Naifeh wants to do is have his liberal record questioned by the voters of the 81st District. He’s gotten away with being ‘Mr. Jimmy’ in Covington, Burlison, Stanton and Brownsville when he comes home and talks a good game, but the voters are starting to see that his votes in Nashville don’t line up with their values,” Hardin continued.
Of course, conventional political wisdom says that the frontrunner avoids debates while the challenger looks to gain ground by appearing on a shared stage. But how far does that logic go? And, as in the case of the Eighth District, what if there is no clear frontrunner?
Debates are by no means the only way for voters to vet candidates. In fact, they too often devolve into streams of talking points and petty finger-pointing. But even so, it seems that if one is certain of one’s ability to serve in the office, one ought to show voters the respect of attending, if at all possible. With just weeks to go before Election Day, I urge you to stay informed, even as some of the candidates try to sidestep you.