Thursday, October 26, 2006

Democracy Now on Exclusion of Green Party from Candidates Debates

Democracy Now on Exclusion of Green Party from Candidates Debates

Posted by: "Steven L. Robinson" srobin262000

Wed Oct 25, 2006 11:28 pm (PST)

Green Party Excluded From Mid-Term Debates

Democracy Now!
October 25, 2006

AMY GOODMAN: Today, we'll talk about Green Party politics and how third
party candidates are being blocked from taking part in debates. Howie
Hawkins joins us here in Democracy Now!'s studios. And from Albany, we're
joined by Betsey Swan. She's the Legislative Analyst with the League of
Women Voters, New York State. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Howie
Hawkins, why don't you begin? Tell us how the process works, how the debates
are set up.

HOWIE HAWKINS: Well, you have groups like the League of Women Voters that
try to participate. What I heard from them is that they were negotiating
with their corporate sponsors, which would be the corporate broadcast media,
and, I would assume, the corporate-sponsored candidates, particularly
Hillary Clinton. My hunch is that broadcast media felt she's the show, and
if she won't show, it's not worth doing the show for the broadcast media. So
I don't have direct confirmation that she did the same thing Cuomo did, but
that's my hunch. That's been my experience in running for local races and
trying to get in debates in Syracuse.

AMY GOODMAN: Betsey Swan, why don't you lay out for us what these
negotiations were? How was the League of Women Voters involved?

BETSEY SWAN: Well, the League has a policy that we apply in determining what
candidates we will invite to participate in our debates. The policy was last
modified in 1992. The board of directors invites third-party candidates to
submit materials and information about their candidacies to the state
League. The board reviews these materials and makes a determination about
whether a candidate is a bona fide contestant.

Among the standards that the League employs are the candidate's
constitutional eligibility to run for office, ballot access, compliance with
financial filing requirements, and demonstration of significant voter
interest and support in the candidacy. And the things we look at are
evidence of a formal statewide campaign with the presence of headquarters,
issuance of position papers, campaign appearances, fundraising activities.
And then we look at other factors that provide substantive evidence of voter
interest, and this can include serious media attention or results in polls.

And the board of directors looked at these criteria and determined that the
two Green Party candidates, Howie Hawkins and Rachel Treichler, did meet
these criteria, and therefore had to be invited to participate in any
League-sponsored debates.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what happened?

BETSEY SWAN: Well, once the decision was made, we were in negotiations for
one debate with WXXI in Rochester. This was a debate for the Attorney
General's office --

AMY GOODMAN: And WXXI is owned by?

BETSEY SWAN: It's a PBS station in Rochester. And then two debates out of
New York City with WABC: one for the U.S. Senate and one for the state
Attorney General's race. Basically we were negotiating, and the bottom line
with XXI was, we were told, that if Rachel Treichler participated, Andrew
Cuomo would not. And they were going with the debate with the two main party

At that point, because the League takes the position that once it has
determined a candidate is a bona fide contestant, the candidate is required
to be invited to debate for League sponsorship, we had no choice but to
withdraw. A similar situation occurred in New York City. We don't know the
reason that the debates were limited to the two main candidates, but we were
unable to negotiate inclusion of the Green Party candidates and also had to
withdraw from those debates.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the League of Women Voters's history when it comes to
debates? How have you been involved? How did it all start?

BETSEY SWAN: Well, it's a long history, and it precedes me by many years. I
can talk in general terms about why the League organizes debates and how we
organize them. The League's a nonpartisan political organization. It was
formed to encourage active and informed citizen participation in government.
And one of our major focuses is voter services activity. To that end, we
publish Voter's Guide and we run candidate debates at all levels -- at the
national level, the state level and local levels.

And we employ pretty much the same procedure at all levels. We adopt
standards that we will use to judge whether candidates will be asked to
debate, and once we have determined that a candidate is eligible, we require
that the candidate be invited in order for the League to sponsor debates. We
feel very strongly that the public has a right to know, to hear from viable
candidates, and we also feel very strongly that the process should not be
dictated by the political strategy of frontrunners, which is why we have
adopted our position.

AMY GOODMAN: So, is the League of Women Voters just being increasingly
sidelined, because you take this nonpartisan view and you insist on viable
candidates being able to participate? You're just getting taken out of all
of these discussions.

BETSEY SWAN: I would say we are not getting taken out. We certainly have
sponsored a number of debates this year, and at the local level we have
ongoing and very frequent sponsorship of debates. I think it's an ongoing
dilemma and not one that is peculiar to the League. There are many
organizations, some traditional news organizations, some organizations such
as the League, that feel it's very important that the public hear from a
range of candidates. I think we all take slightly different tacks in how we
approach this. I think the important thing is that the discussion continues
and that we have as many debates as we can with as many viable candidates
talking as we can.

AMY GOODMAN: Are we now having corporations taking over the decision-making
about who will participate? For example, we had Jonathon Tasini on. Now, he
was a Democratic candidate before the Democratic primary, challenging
Hillary Rodham Clinton. And it was NY1, who's parent is Time Warner, that
said that he had to have something like a minimum 5% polling and $500,000 in
the bank. He had over 13% polling, but he didn't have that money in the
bank. It wasn't either/or, it was both. And it turned out that the parent
company, Time Warner, had given Hillary Rodham Clinton something like
$100,000. Ultimately, they didn't hold the debate. Betsey Swan?

BETSEY SWAN: That happens. Those standards are very different from the
League's standards. We do look at polling. We have disjunctive requirements,
so if the poll figures are not met, there are other ways a candidate can
prove viability of candidacy.

AMY GOODMAN: But in this case, he was more than double the polling. The
polling wasn't the issue at all.


AMY GOODMAN: It was this prohibitive amount of money in the bank that I
think was more than you needed as a presidential candidate. He was running
for --

BETSEY SWAN: Yes, obviously those are standards that the League has not seen
fit to adopt. We don't feel they're appropriate, to use that type of
standard to exclude candidates.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Betsey Swan, I want to thank you very much for joining
us, Legislative Analyst for the League of Women Voters, New York State.
Thank you, speaking to us from Albany. Howie Hawkins, you're the person that
they pulled out their sponsorship over here in New York. Talk about your
attempts -- I mean, what message it is you're trying to get out, and how you
do get it out when you're not able to participate in the debate?

HOWIE HAWKINS: Well, the debate would have been great, because the two
leading issues I'm running on are bringing the troops home from Iraq, and we
know that a two-to-one majority of New Yorkers are for that position; and
the other position is a national health insurance program that would cover
everybody, and we know three-to-one New Yorkers favor that. So it wasn't
just my personal disappointment. It was the disservice to the majority of
New Yorkers, who did not have a voice in these debates. Clinton and Spencer,
the Democrat and Republican, debated how to fight the war in Iraq, not to
get out of it, and how to patch up private health insurance. So the majority
of New Yorkers were, in a sense, excluded from these debates.

My experience is, the leading candidates basically dictate the terms, and
the broadcast media won't broadcast debates without the leading
personalities, and in this case Clinton is, you know, the best funded,
probably best known candidate in the whole country. So, my sense is she
dictated the terms.

I've personally experienced that when I've negotiated over mayor debates. I
ran for mayor of Syracuse last year, and, you know, the Democrat came in and
said we're doing one debate with this one particular station, not three like
he originally agreed to. And then, a Republican negotiator said, "Well, if
the Democratic mayor doesn't show up, we're not showing up." My position
was, I'll show up and debate anybody anytime. And I believe the producers
sympathized with my position, but in the end they made a business decision.
And so --

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, a business decision?

HOWIE HAWKINS: They said they won't get an audience if the mayor isn't
involved, so the mayor was basically able to dictate the terms, a mayor who
had, you know, a million dollars to run for mayor of Syracuse, a city now of
about $125,000.

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