Photo from Ron Bemis and Jim McDermott campaigns
Republican Ron Bemis, left, has not had a chance to formally debate his opponent, 11-term Congressman Jim McDermott (D-7), right.

21st Century Viking: McDermott debates ... but not with the right person

By Brian LeBlanc

Congressman Jim McDermott will be participating in a debate tonight, November 1st, 7 p.m., at the University of Washington (UW), but it will not be with his general election opponent, Republican Ron Bemis.

The “Mind The Gap: 2012 Issues Debate” between conservative talk show host Michael Medved and McDermott is being hosted by the Student Freedom Project at UW. The event is described on their website as a “lively discussion about issues that will directly affect college students and recent graduates.” (http://www.myfreedomfoundation.com/index.php/student_freedom_project/vie...)

The Student Freedom Project is a student arm of the Freedom Foundation, a “non-profit educational research organization” based in Washington State. According to their website, the “Freedom Foundation’s mission is to advance individual liberty, free enterprise, and limited, accountable government.”

Rebecca Phillips, the Student Freedom Project Coordinator, said the debate was booked several months in advance, and is a non-partisan educational event for UW students. McDermott and Medved were asked to debate at the event based on the fact that they are well-known voices for the liberal and conservative points of view, respectively.

Ron Bemis believes that the timing of event makes it “an election platform for McDermott.” When Bemis became aware of the event he contacted the Freedom Foundation and suggested that they add him to the debate as a third speaker.

Phillips was aware that Bemis had reached out to the Freedom Foundation, but that “with the issue debate being just a few days away, we were too far into the plans to change them, especially since the issue debate was structured to be an educational event, not a campaign-related one. The event will include no mention of Congressman McDermott's or Mr. Bemis's candidacy or campaign.”

Jonathan Bechtle, the CEO of the Freedom Foundation, confirmed that he had talked with Bemis and informed him that McDermott’s office is treating this as an educational event and did not want Bemis to be added.

Sara Crumb, the District Director for McDermott’s Congressional office, confirmed that the Freedom Foundation had been in contact with them regarding Bemis’ request. When they talked, she said the Freedom Foundation “re-clarified” with them that this was an educational rather than a campaign event. If the Freedom Foundation had decided to include Bemis, they would have had to arrange the debate through the campaign rather than the Congressional office. “If it becomes a campaign event, it changes how we participate,” said Crumb.

Dayna Lurie, the Political Director of McDermott’s election campaign, also emphasized that this was “an invitation the McDermott received from the students” and as such was an educational rather than a campaign event. When I asked why McDermott has not had a formal debate with Bemis during the campaign, Lurie said that the campaign would be “happy to do any events that they were invited to.”

It is commendable that both Congressman McDermott and Michael Medved will be participating in an educational debate primarily for UW students this Thursday. The timing of it does not, however, reflect very well on McDermott in that he is debating someone, regardless of the intent of the event, other than his general election opponent the week before the election.

Over the course of writing this article, it became clear to me that we, the citizens of the 7th Congressional District did not get a formal debate between McDermott and Bemis because we neither asked for one nor put one on ourselves. The Student Freedom Project took the time and effort to put on their educational event. Bemis said he reached out to McDermott’s campaign after the primary in August to schedule some debates but they declined. McDermott’s campaign staff said that the Congressman would appear at any event if he were asked, but he wasn’t invited to participate in a formal election debate by anyone and neither was Bemis.

There were a grand total of three events held this election season held featuring the two candidates vying to fill the 7th CD seat. Bemis and McDermott can’t just hold a formal debate in a vacuum; they need a forum that is available to all of the residents of the 7th CD in which to do so.

Instead of asking why nearly all of the Seattle media outlets ignored the 2012 7th CD race, citizens would do well to remember this series of events during the next election cycle. If you want to hear the candidates for office debate, it’s your job as a citizen to either make your opinions known to the media or create a debate forum on your own. Maybe it’s time we created one in Ballard. Are you with me?

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