ARLENE VIOLET - Stealth campaigns define candidates

ARLENE VIOLET - Stealth campaigns define candidates

By the time you read this, you will probably know who made it through their respective primary challenge. Chances are strong that the leading candidates for governor, i.e. Democratic incumbent Gina Raimondo and Republican Alan Fung, will emerge as the winners of their respective races. If so, the voters will be the losers, because you have rewarded cashbook campaigning since these better known and funded contenders refused to participate in meaningful debates.

Some commentators have suggested that participating in debates is no big deal. They are wrong. Democracy cannot survive unless lesser known challengers get the forums available to challenge the well-funded candidate and to put forth their own ideas. Nobody would ever run if there were no avenues available to articulate a different point of view in a forum where you don’t have to pay to be heard. Shouldn’t there be at least an opportunity to vet ideas and challenge the record of an incumbent face to face without having to pay for it?

If the suggestion is that there shouldn’t be a debate forum, then you have just surrendered elections to only rich people to run. You also are missing out on potentially creative ideas for governance by ordinary folks who pay the bills in the state.

Furthermore, it is the height of naiveté to suggest that everybody knows where the well-heeled candidate stands on issues. Even a cursory review of their campaign literature and media ads show carefully crafted nuances of positions to polish off the rough edges originally espoused by the candidate. Many times the “data” supporting how “wonderful” the candidate is was actually selected to the exclusion of other information that doesn’t paint such a rosy picture.

In this particular election, gubernatorial candidate Fung has very rarely expressed any stances while Gov. Raimondo has revised some of her positions through her ads. Therefore, to say that the voter “knows” where a candidate truly stands is ludicrous and untested without the burnishing of ideas through debate.

Further, as political campaigns progress, unexpected events can occur that may not be favorable to a candidate. A well-financed candidate can bomb the airwaves with “explanations” of “what happened” as a “spin” without having to face the underfunded opponent who can challenge the explanation.

The public should think twice about surrendering to the media mashers who try to bring about a “Pavlovian response” to the “virtue” of their meal ticket. Further, the debate nay-sayers fail to understand the importance of body language and the voters’ need to assess the candidate in a real setting as opposed to the concocted advertising.

So, Rhode Island voters are on the cusp of electing folks to lead the state into the future. Do you really want to delegate your responsibility to vote for the best leader by being spoon-fed with political pablum via media? If somebody wants to be your next governor, you ought to have “face time” with them. If they cannot rebut their opponents, particularly when they are attacked, how will they convince legislators to go along with their priorities?

Before the November elections, insist on multiple debates. It’s a citizen’s duty to do so for the evaluation of the true person running vs. the media-created myth. Otherwise, you’ve settled for celluloid candidates.

Violet is an attorney and former state attorney general.