Journal Gazette: Undebatable

There was good news Wednesday from the Indiana Debate Commission. Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly and challengers, Republican Mike Braun and Libertarian Lucy Brenton, have agreed to meet in two debates. The first will be Oct. 8 at Purdue University Northwest in Westville; the second will be Oct. 30 in Indianapolis. Because of the significance of Indiana’s Senate race, both debates will be broadcast nationally on C-SPAN as well as on channels throughout Indiana.

Such meetings can prove difficult to arrange, particularly at the state level, which is why the Debate Commission, a private, nonpartisan group of journalists and educators, came into existence a few years ago. Too often, an incumbent, especially one who appears to be leading in the polls, is reluctant to give a challenger “equal billing” on a debate stage.

Cynics might say Donnelly’s willingness to agree to two face-offs is tacit acknowledgment he is in a tough race. We would argue that organized public debates should be part of every senatorial and congressional race, and every candidate who agrees to the process should be applauded for his or her contribution to our democratic system.

Which brings us to the 3rd District race between U.S. Rep. Jim Banks and his opponent, Courtney Tritch.

Shortly after she won the Democratic nomination this spring, Tritch, a marketing consultant, proposed a series of debates with first-term Republican Rep. Banks. Banks agreed in principle. Last month, after she urged Banks to hurry and settle on some dates, his campaign responded: “Unlike Ms. Tritch, Congressman Banks has a family and a job.”

Reaction to that churlish remark shouldn’t distract from the continuing need for 3rd District congressional debates this fall. The election in November is as crucial as any modern midterm. Banks and Tritch are both informed, articulate candidates with strongly contrasting views.

Voters deserve to hear them challenge each other to defend their positions on such key issues as health care, trade and foreign policy. We deserve to know more about their views on President Donald Trump and the right way to heal the rifts between left and right in America.

The 3rd District isn’t the only place where the incumbent is playing coy. U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-2nd, told the South Bend Tribune July 20 that she would have three debates with Democratic challenger Mel Hall. But those debates haven’t yet been scheduled, and Hall’s staff has told the Tribune the congresswoman is stalling.

In Indiana, which had the lowest percentage of eligible voters in the nation cast ballots in the last midterm in 2014, congressional candidates need to encourage voter engagement and turnout. That includes getting serious about scheduling debates in time to make them happen.

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