Is it time for Kentucky to create a debate commission?

08/03/2014 06:05 PM

MURRAY — Here’s the good news: Both Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes said this weekend they “sure hope” they can debate each other.

The bad news is that it’s now August and words and deeds are not matching up. Their campaigns have yet to agree on the parameters for a debate — or even another joint appearance after Saturday’s yell-fest at the annual Fancy Farm’s St. Jerome Parish picnic.

Neville Blakemore III, a Democrat from Louisville, suggested to Pure Politics that Kentucky might need a non-profit, independent debate commission made up of volunteer citizens and journalists to set parameters, venues and dates of televised debates for major races.

He and prominent politicians from both parties told Pure Politics over the weekend that McConnell and Grimes owe Kentuckians an exchange of ideas before the Nov. 4 election. Here’s what Blakemore and Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear said about that:

Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who announced Saturday he would run for governor next year, said he, too, wants to see the U.S. Senate candidates mix it up the way gubernatorial candidates are expected to.

“I think candidates should debate more. We’ve already had one potential debate among potential candidates for governor for 2015,” he said, referring to a forum put on by the Chamber of Commerce earlier this summer. “And there still hasn’t been a debate in 2014.”

A Presidential Debate Commission has set-up nationally televised forums in recent presidential elections. But other states have begun to follow suit as candidates for statewide office have become less likely to agree to many on their own.

Indiana created the non-profit Indiana Debate Commission in 2007 that relies on volunteer citizens and media groups to set up debates and collect and select questions for candidates for statewide races such as for governor and U.S. Senate.

And earlier this year, prominent political figures in Utah formed that state’s debate commission in response to frustration over the 2012 election cycle that featured just one statewide televised debate for U.S. Senate candidates and gubernatorial candidates.

Not everyone is embracing the debate commission concept.

Jonathan Hurst, who has been managing Grimes’ campaign, said he didn’t think it was needed.

“We’re adults. I think the campaigns can get together with the venues that have asked us to be a part of it,” Hurst said.

He and McConnell’s campaign manager, Jesse Benton, though, haven’t spoken for about a month about the details of joint appearances before Nov. 4. But Hurst said he believes the two sides are “getting closer.”

“Our real sticking point is that we want to make sure this is an honest debate not a filibuster session. We want to make sure Kentuckians are involved in the process and that journalists are involved in the process,” Hurst said.

Grimes mentioned in her Fancy Farm speech that she will attend the Kentucky Educational Television debate in October and the Kentucky Farm Bureau forum and is willing to accept invitations to debates in the eastern Kentucky cities of Pikeville and Beattyville. She told reporters Friday night she wants to go toe-to-toe with McConnell.

While McConnell was much more succinct in his answer, he too, said he wants to face Grimes.

In 2008, McConnell and his Democratic opponent, Bruce Lunsford, attended three forums — the Farm Bureau event and debates in Northern Kentucky and Owensboro. None were carried on statewide television.

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