Everyone likes to compare options before making a decision. When you’re shopping, you’ll try on a few pairs of jeans before deciding which ones to buy. When choosing your classes, you read multiple course descriptions or syllabi before registering. You can sample different flavors of ice cream before you commit to buying a cone. So why is it that when Michiganders make arguably the most important decision of this election cycle — who will be the next governor of our state — we are denied a side-by-side comparison of the two candidates?
The short answer is that the Republican candidate for governor, Rick Snyder, has apparently decided that having a debate with his Democratic opponent, Virg Bernero, is not in his self-interest and has all but quashed the possibility of an open, honest debate.
About a week ago, the two candidates had almost settled their plans for a series of three debates, but Snyder decided to drop out of the agreement at the last minute. He offered only the excuse that he disliked Bernero’s terms, which, according to the Detroit Free Press, included airing the debate during the evening for increased viewership and negotiating moderators for the exchanges. Despite public pressure over the past week, Snyder still refuses to participate in a televised match-up.
If one word can describe Snyder’s behavior in this matter, it’s “evasive.” Even though a whole seven weeks has passed since the primary election, Snyder continues to construct roadblocks toward reaching an agreement on this issue. By dragging out the process long enough, he might effectively pass the time frame in which debates are feasible. Unlike Bernero, who has publicly stated that he would like at least eight opportunities for moderated policy discussions, Snyder keeps stringing the process along in a manner that wastes time and frees him from the necessity of saying “no” to debates outright.
Even during the Republican primary, Snyder stuck to town hall meetings and other forums in which he was the only candidate available for the audience to question. Perhaps the former Gateway executive believes that appearing in public alongside a competitor would detract from the expensive ad campaign in which he has invested millions of dollars from his personal savings. Bernero, on the other hand, whose career lies in the less lucrative field of public service, favors providing voters with a forum that is less costly and that encourages them to form their own opinions of the two candidates at hand.
There is no reason that an honest candidate should seek to avoid the opportunity to present his or her positions to the public in such a way that they may be weighed against the positions of another. Dodging such a critical aspect of the democratic process seems to be little more than a means of avoiding discussion of the issues in an unscripted manner. Unfortunately, as demonstrated by his recent actions, this seems to be the route Snyder has chosen.
Regardless of party affiliation, every citizen deserves the access to information about candidates for public office that debates provide. By preventing debates in an apparent attempt to suppress the voice of his opponent, Snyder has failed to look outside of the realm of his own campaign strategy and consider the consequences such a stance will have on the quality of democratic decision-making.
The people of Michigan have a monumental decision before them. Over the course of the next month and a half they must determine collectively who they would like to govern their state. At the very least, they deserve a series of public, televised debates to help them come to the right conclusion. It is unfortunate for everyone that Snyder does not seem to agree.
This viewpoint was written by Devin Parsons and Robert Bowen on behalf of the University’s chapter of College Democrats.