BATON ROUGE — A judge has quashed a political candidate’s attempt to legally force organizers of an Oct. 18 debate to include more participants.
Troy Hebert, a former state lawmaker who isn’t affiliated with a political party, filed a lawsuit earlier this month to block a televised debate between Senate candidates, arguing the criteria that a candidate must meet to be included is unfair.
On Oct. 13, Judge Tim Kelley refused to stop the debate or force the organizers — Louisiana Public Broadcasting (LPB) and the Council for a Better Louisiana — to include Hebert among the small crowd of candidates who will be on stage.
Two other candidates who didn't make the cut later joined the lawsuit. According to the Associated Press, the three men represented themselves during a two-day hearing.
Just five of 24 Senate candidates are included in the upcoming debate. To join, they had to have raised at least $1 million and demonstrated that they have at least five percent of voter support in polls.
The race has attracted so many candidates because of its rare circumstances, Robert Hogan, a political science professor at Louisiana State University, told the Louisiana Record.
“This is an open-seat election for the U.S. Senate — an opportunity that seldom presents itself. Well-qualified and highly competitive candidates along with many others recognize that such opportunities are rare,” Hogan told the Louisiana Record.
Debates often limit the number of candidates to keep the event from getting out of control, he said. Parameters have the added appeal of keeping the event from simply offering a platform to people with extreme views.
“With 15 or so candidates, there would be very limited time for each candidate to speak and almost no time for interactions between candidates that might facilitate voters’ ability to make comparisons,” Hogan said. “There are currently 24 candidates on the ballot for U.S. Senate -- far too many to have anything that resembles a ‘debate.’”
But it doesn’t mean that Hebert doesn’t have a point. Hogan said limiting the field prevents some candidates from attracting votes because they can’t take advantage of the free media. He said any criteria will seem arbitrary but it’s necessary to balance the advantages and disadvantages of handing a microphone to any person who puts their name on the ballot.
“On one hand, this is a bad thing — it limits certain political perspectives from being heard. Perhaps these are minority perspectives that involve very good ideas but simply have not been considered by a wide enough audience,” Hogan said. “On the other hand, do we really want to give credibility and perhaps legitimize some minority views that could be overtly divisive or dangerous? For example, would we want to create an opportunity for a white supremacist to enlist more followers?”
Debate sponsors often use polling information to set the threshold for participation. Hogan said this rule ensures that credible candidates with a reasonable amount of public support are included in the event. But the LPB debate has the added layer of fundraising, which he thinks is unusual.
“While such a threshold may be an acceptable proxy for level of popular support, it gives the impression that access to money is more important than voter appeal,” he said.