Debate disinvite is appalling, outrageous

Falchuk criticizes withdrawal of Worcester invitation

I’ve heard of debates where the sponsoring news outlets just don’t invite any candidates if they don’t belong to the Democratic or Republican parties – such as the Boston Globe-WGBH upcoming debate on October 21.

I’ve also heard of debates where the major-party candidates bow out or cancel at the last minute, citing a “scheduling conflict.”

But this one’s a stunner. I – along with the other independent candidates for governor officially on the ballot – have actually just been “disinvited” to the big, upcoming Oct. 27 debate in Worcester. And in a disturbingly casual way.

The facts:

On Monday morning, October 6, my campaign manager and I received a call from NECN Managing Editor Mary Plansky (@MaryPlansky) with regard to the Oct. 27 candidates’ debate which I, Martha Coakley, Charlie Baker and Jeff McCormick had all been invited to back on Aug. 28. On Sept. 2, we accepted this invitation, co-sponsored by NECN, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Hanover Theatre.

In her call, Mary yanked this month-old invitation to me – a candidate officially on the ballot for governor – without any concrete explanation. When we pressed her for reasoning, she offered a generic “you’re not really high enough in the polls to be included in the debate.” When further pressed to say what percentage, exactly, would be considered “high enough,” according to this new caveat, Mary hemmed and hawed a bit, then reluctantly said “I don’t know, maybe something like 10 percent?”

Consider that when a candidate performs well in these debates, it has a very real impact on increasing those very poll numbers she mentions. News organizations must realize this. Also bear in mind that in their Aug. 28 debate invitation sent to my office, the debate’s sponsoring organizations made absolutely zero mention of any conditions, caveats, or hurdles which would be introduced later on, and which would bar any of the candidates on the ballot from participating in this important debate.

On the contrary, according to their invitation to me: “We view this as a wonderful opportunity for the candidates seeking to be the next governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to reach a larger audience by having one of their live, televised debates in the City of Worcester. This widely broadcast debate would provide voters the chance to hear from the candidates on a range of issues pertinent to their daily lives. We do hope that you accept this invitation and take part in a live-televised debate.”

As not just a candidate, but as a voter, I could not agree more with the sentiment in their invitation I had accepted. It’s what makes it all the more outrageous that they should flip-flop on their invitation with next to no reasoning given. I am appalled, just like voters who want to know more about ALL their candidate options for governor should be appalled.

Could this decision have been made because some said I had performed quite well – better than the major party candidates – in the first all-candidates’ forum and debate? Because some press said I “stole the show,” “won hands down,” and “played the role of the truth-teller?”

Could it be because pressure came from Coakley’s and/or Baker’s campaign to exclude any candidate who might actually force discussion of important issues that they simply refuse to talk about? (State House News Service pointed out on Oct.3 that “Falchuk appears to be having some impact in part by regularly pointing out the angles of major party politics that Baker and Coakley don’t discuss.”)

Could it involve the millions of dollars in advertising revenue press outlets have received during election season from the Coakley and Baker camps, as well as from the well-funded Super PACs supporting them?

Maybe it’s a combination. But, in any case, it’s flat-out wrong. I genuinely do not understand how we can call ourselves a democracy, and then blatantly remove from the running the voices of any independent candidates – or voters – who do not line up with “Democrat” or “Republican” next to their name. This is tantamount to telling voters that only votes for a Democrat or Republican will be accepted.

To all of this, I ask what people could be thinking to so casually cut out the voices of three-fifths of the candidates running for governor, and in such a cavalier way. Particularly with 53 percent of voters in Massachusetts being independents, it is misguided to frame blocking the independent candidates on the ballot from debates as some sort of public service for voters, to “simplify” things for them. Voters are smart – they can handle hearing the ideas and opinions of more than just the two major party candidates.

I also ask Coakley and Baker – why are they not insisting that all candidates on the ballot be in all of the gubernatorial debates? Why are they alright with cutting three of the five candidates for governor from the list of voters’ candidate options? Do they consider this a free, fair, and open democracy – or not? And, most importantly, if they claim they cannot impact who is included in the debates, is this how we can expect each would govern and lead if elected?

Valid questions, all of them.

A record 60 percent of Americans are calling for creation of a third party, according to Gallup. As each week goes by in the campaign, and as I witness firsthand the crooked advantages the major party candidates have – too often with the assistance or tacit approval of some (not all) press outlets – I can understand why that number is growing as high as it is.

As a voter, I can say with 100 percent confidence that all of us, as voters, deserve so much more.

Meet the Author

Evan Falchuk is one of three independent candidates for governor.