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The Journal Gazette

  • Stier

Friday, September 07, 2018 1:00 am

Hearing from candidates shouldn't be up for debate

Brian E. Stier

Brian E. Stier, a Fort Wayne attorney, is former chairman of the Allen County Democratic Party.

From 1995 to around 2001, I was given the honor of serving as chairman of the Allen County Democratic Party. It was an immensely time-consuming endeavor, but one I remain grateful for having undertaken.

One of the many responsibilities involved debates or exchanges of political ideas with my counterpart, Steve Shine, chairman of the Allen County Republican Party.

This political bantering occurred at different times and places, on television, radio or in public, and it covered a variety of political issues over the years.

While I'm sure Shine believed that doing so may have potentially elevated the visibility of the Democratic Party in this county, he engaged in these exchanges nonetheless. To his credit.

Some part of him must have known that such public debates and political discourse went hand in hand with our positions as chairmen of our respective parties.

I believe Shine understood that something as basic, yet important, as political debates were an integral part of the political process – that is, something the process demanded and that voters deserved.

Therefore, even though he and I vehemently disagreed on most every issue, these disagreements, rather than serving as excuses for us not to debate, were instead the very essence of why debate was needed.

In 2016, Rep. Jim Banks was elected, not by party precinct members, but by voters in Indiana's 3rd Congressional District. Voters in the district, even more than precinct committee persons, deserve to hear candidates from both parties openly discuss, and debate, the issues important to this district.Banks' obvious reluctance, or fear, to do just that, is an incredible disappointment.

His opponent, Courtney Tritch, and her campaign reached out to Banks on May 9. She proposed six debates.

This good-faith offer was made six months before the Nov. 6 election.

The next day his campaign told The Journal Gazette: “Congressman Banks looks forward to debating Ms. Tritch at the appropriate time and contrasting his record of conservative accomplishments with her liberal activism.”

Despite the Tritch campaign's discussions with TV stations WANE, WPTA, WFFT, WFWA and the nonpartisan League of Women Voters, as of early August, no significant efforts had been made by Banks to keep his promise to debate.

Three months before Election Day, on Aug. 6, Tritch held a news conference to ask Banks to confirm four debates to take place during the fall. Rather than providing available dates, he responded: “Unlike Ms. Tritch, I have a family and a job . . .”

Putting aside this offensive jab to women and to many of his constituents, and ignoring that Tritch owns a small business of marketing consulting, Banks' statement lacked the class and sophistication one might expect from a sitting member of Congress.

To make matters worse, Banks tried to pass this despicable statement off on his campaign, as if the statement emanated from one of his staffers.

The video of Banks actually saying these words clearly contradicted his effort to cover up his earlier quote.

Caught in an obvious attempt to deceive, Banks told The Journal Gazette the next day that he looked forward to debating Tritch “because the contrast between her and I could not be more significant, and the debate will give us the opportunity to expose that even more.”

Yet Banks did nothing to bring these debates closer to reality.

So, on Aug. 15, a public rally took place at the Courthouse to nudge him along. Once again, numerous dates for the end of September and the month of October were offered. None of the dates provided conflicted with the congressional calendar. Banks' response was to insult some of the people candidate Tritch chose to speak.

The speakers included County Councilwoman Sharon Tucker; former City Councilman and physician Tom Hayhurst; Pablo Hurtado, head of the Democratic Latino Caucus of Allen County; and 17-year-old Emily Farler, a high school student who has dedicated herself to community activism.

To add insult to injury, our elected representative and his campaign have been using the same old tired and uncreative labels to describe his opponent: “far left,” “radical left,” “Chicago liberal,” “extremist.”

Perhaps Banks' hope is that if he throws out enough time-worn, petty and trivial labels, this will somehow be a substitute for actually engaging in genuine political discourse and exchanging political ideologies with a worthy opponent.

This seems to be the path he has chosen. In doing so, however, he is trying to deny voters in the 3rd District something they deserve – an opportunity for all of us to benefit from this political exchange.

I have waited to write this piece in order to give Banks the time and opportunity to do the right thing – to provide available dates and work out the format and details of debates with Courtney Tritch.

As of this writing, this has not yet happened.

All voters, no matter what their political persuasion, deserve to hear their congressional candidates debate their ideas, their positions on issues, and most important, their solutions to the issues facing all of us.

“Running out the clock” is a strategy in sports, but the voters of the 3rd District deserve so much better than pitiful gamesmanship.

It not only deprives us of an opportunity to engage in, and learn from, the political process, thus allowing us to be fully informed, but it is also just plain cowardly on Banks' part.

All voters, no matter how they identify, deserve better than that.