By Craig Bowden, Libertarian Candidate for Congress: As many of you know, I have been protesting the Utah Debate Commission for the last couple months. I will continue to do so, even though I missed out on debating in the one held for Utah’s 1st District. This isn’t about me. This is about the voters having the opportunity to hear from eligible candidates and learn about where they stand. They may never get to hear from me on such a stage, but that doesn’t mean the other districts or the Attorney General’s race shouldn’t have all balloted candidates included.
On Tuesday, September 23rd, we held a protest outside of building where the first debate was held. I want to share my story of this process, because it is important that people understand what happened to us that day.
We began setting up at around 5:00 p.m. so we could make sure that voters heading in to watch the debate would be able to see the excluded candidates. We also had flyers and pamphlets to showcase where we stand on critical issues facing the State of Utah and the nation. We set up in a nice grassy area, one that seemed to be an ideal location, but we were duped.
The area we were allowed to protest was on the opposite side of the building from where the majority of voters would be entering, contrary to what I was told by Weber State’s Police Chief Dane LeBlanc. It appears that we were intentionally put out of site and mind by the police department, even though they had three officers keeping tabs on us to make sure we stayed in our “free speech zone” assigned to us.
We were told that we could not bring canopies for shade, in spite of the fact that the temperatures were in the high 80’s and low 90’s. We suffered the heat so we could be heard. The candidates that made the debate? They got to set tables up inside the Shepard Union Building to hand out information. So not only were we excluded from taking stage, but we also were shut out from being able to set up a table. Ironic that the mission of the Debate Commission is to inform voters.
When candidate Donna McAleer walked by, I called out and said hello to her, to have her look up and scoff my presence. I was afforded the exact same response by Congressman Bishop as he left. Neither of them thought we deserved to be within their presence.
The showing of support though small, was enthusiastic and we had some ad hoc debate going on between the candidates located at the protest. We discussed our differences and our common ground. We also got to have people stop and listen as they went about to classes. This was worth standing in the sun, getting to have voters interact with us and learn more about where we stand.
I think the biggest complaint that I have from this aside from the general disdain showed by major party candidates and the debate commission was the way we were treated by the news agencies reporting on the debate.
Fox 13 didn’t air any of the footage of the protest, nor any interviews with those attending, even though Dwayne Vance and I both took time to talk to the camera. As a matter of fact, Fox 13 barely even gave us a footnote on the 9 o’clock news. At least we were somewhat mentioned. Worse were the reactions from Channel 2 and Channel 4 News. They actually went out of the way to avoid talking to us. I watched them walking up the stairs near our staging area, and move to walk along the wall of the building to avoid talking to us at all.
The Salt Lake Tribune, though not present at all, made a footnote about only Dwayne Vance and I being in attendance. They reported total misinformation with stating it was just the two of us and forgetting to mention the supporters and other candidates who showed up to give support.
The Deseret News at least shot two pictures and posted them up with their article, but aside from the captions in the pictures, they made no mention of what we were trying to accomplish or what our legitimate complaints were.
One highlight of this was the coming together of all third parties in Utah, something that has never happened before. We are sending in a formal complaint for the Utah Debate Commission violating the law, and all of us are standing together in this common goal: that Utah voters have the chance to hear from every legitimate candidate in the election and not the chosen major party candidates that continue to offer the same tired rhetoric of the last few decades.
I have also included in this writing a message I have for Scott Howell, the Co-Chair of the Utah Debate Commission that spent two days in the media calling us “wackos” and “extremists” and claiming that we haven’t been putting in the leg work to be considered “real candidates.”
UPDATE TO STORY
I am a person who will give credit where credit is due; I’m not a partisan individual. Tonight I learned that Donna McAleer, my Democrat opponent, fought hard to get third parties into the debates this year.
I also need to apologize for a statement made from the debate night. I had stated that Donna did not acknowledge me when I said hello. While it was true she didn’t, she was quite nervous going into the debate and didn’t realize I had said hello, as she was focused on what was about to happen.
I should have accounted for the nerves and focus needed, as I’ve had the jitters doing speaking engagements as well.