I have been fighting for a long time to expand liberty and improve the way things happen in Washington, D.C. One of my latest tasks has been running for Congress out of Utah’s 1st District. It has been challenging and rewarding. Today I want to talk to you about my experience with the Utah Debate Commission, the supposedly non-partisan group that is running the televised debates in Utah.
I knew almost immediately that there was going to be a threshold set too high for third party candidates to be able to participate. That is the way the system works with the two party monopoly, especially when you only have Democrats and Republicans staff your commission. So I took to a petition, asking people to sign if they would like to hear third parties speak.
In a matter of a few days, I had managed to garner over 600 signatures in hard copy and online using a petition website. I delivered the results to the Utah Debate Commission, only to be told that their way is how it is. They refused to listen to what the people wanted.
Well, yesterday they released their poll numbers to reveal who would be in the debates, and as figured, not one third party candidate made the cut. But there is more to the story, and something I haven’t been able to get a single news agency to cover (largely because they are part of the commission, which I will show later). In each poll, the “undecided” category marked anywhere from 20-31%! So a fifth to a third of people in Utah weren’t sure who they would vote for. They want to see their options!
Well, of course the two parties polled well enough in order to make the debates (though Democrats in Utah almost didn’t make the cut in two races). This is obvious since Democrats and Republicans have spent a couple million in this race to get their names out there, largely funded by special interest groups outside of the state and not the voters (you can verify where money comes from on Open Secret’s website).
I believed that I could appeal to the Debate Commission with this information, but was again shot down. Even though so many voters were undecided in the polls, the commission still will not allow for third parties to debate.
Now, earlier I mentioned that the press would not cover the news on this, and I want to present to you the Board of Directors for the Utah Debate Commission. Please note the media partners on the board will be in bold, emphasis added by me.
Scott Howell, Former Utah State Senator & Candidate for United States Senate, Co-Chair
Bob Bennett, Former United States Senator, Co-Chair
Ed Allen, Former Utah State Senator
Rod Arquette, Program Director, KNRS
Renai Bodley, Vice President, News Director, FOX 13
Damon Cann, Co-Director of Operations, Institute of Government & Politics, Utah State University
Irene Caso, News Anchor, Producer, Univision 32
Morgan Lyon Cotti, Hinckley Institute of Politics
Jennifer Dahl, News Director, KUTV
Richard Davis, Professor of Political Science, BYU
Jay DeSart, Associate Professor of Political Science, Utah Valley University
Paul Edwards, Editor, Deseret News
Karen Hale, Director, Community Relations, Salt Lake City and Former Utah State Senator
Corey Hodges, Lead Pastor, New Pilgrim Baptist Church
Eric Kirby, Director, Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service, Southern Utah University
Fred Lampropolous, Founder and CEO, Merit Medical
Dan Liljenquist, Former Utah State Senator and Former Candidate for United States Senate
Carol McNamara, Director, Walker Institute of Politics and Public Service
John Miller, Assistant General Manager, Mark Miller Toyota
Terry Orme, Editor, Salt Lake Tribune
George Severson, News Director, KTVX
Diena Simmons, Station Manager, KBYU
Karl Sun, CEO, Lucid Software
Tanya Vea, Executive Vice President, KSL
Ken Verdoia, Production Director, KUED
Olene Walker, Former Governor of Utah
Thomas Wright, President & Principal Broker, Summit Sotheby’s International Realty
Michele Zabriskie, President, Utah Broadcasters Association
Now, based on this evidence, it would appear that the media is complicit in blocking attempts for third parties to enter into the debates. Only two newspapers picked up a letter to the editor I wrote, and one of them isn’t part of the board. All news agencies, however, mentioned nothing of the attempts third parties were making to get into the debates.
Now, all arguments used in this fight are totally legitimate, and make sense for more freedom and choice for the people of Utah. Let me go over the whole argument used in this process so that you can make sense of what we attempted to do and the Commission ignored:
1. All the debates, except one, were being held in taxpayer funded venues. The universities and colleges are all state run and as such, even though a private entity was organizing the debates, the fact that some candidates could not speak is a violation of the first amendment.
2.Each candidate, whether independent or a party nominee, must meet a threshold requirement to even be considered for the ballot. In the case of Independents in Utah, hundreds of signatures must be collected, verified by county clerks, and turned in with filing paperwork before being ballot qualified. As a member of a party, you must be elected by voting members or delegates in a 50% or more majority in convention to be ballot qualified. If you do not meet that threshold, you cannot run as a candidate. You must be able to clearly articulate ideas and positions you want to accomplish in office.
3. Title 47 U.S. Code Sec. 315 (Communications Act) states that candidates be given equal time by broadcast news with the following exceptions:
- bona fide news cast
- bona fide news interview
- bona fide news documentary (if the appearance of the candidate is incidental to the presentation of the subject or subjects covered by the news documentary)
- on-the-spot coverage of bona fide news events (including but not limited to political conventions and activities incidental thereto)
Since the Utah Debate Commission is staffed by members of broadcast media, this does not fall under the “on the spot” coverage. They are helping plan and coordinate the news event, so free air time is being granted to two candidates not afforded others in the race. This is a violation of the law.
4. Former Senator Bob Bennett (who is one of the co-chairs) once stated that had he not been given the ability to debate, he would have lost his race since he was behind by approximately 52 points. However, he is now turning around and not affording the same opportunity to candidates who could turn the election if given the chance.
5. In order for a truly educated, voting public, candidates who will appear on the ballot should be able to express themselves to the voters.
All of these arguments are valid, but the commission will not listen to the people.
Third party candidates and supporters will be protesting at Weber State University on September 23rd, the night of the first debate. We are hoping to change the future of the debate process to reflect a more fair process that encompasses the freedom and values of the United States Constitution.