Debate controversy shows need to alter admissions criteria, level the playing field

By Gianni da Costa | Oct 24, 2016

BATON ROUGE - On the evening of Oct. 18, five candidates running for the U.S. Senate met at Louisiana Tech University for a debate. The other 19 candidates were forced to watch from home, because they did not meet the criteria for admission.

The politicians running for the Louisiana Senate had to garner 5 percent of the polls and have access to $1 million in fundraising in order to participate in the debate. This criteria was established by the Louisiana Public Broadcasting company and A Council For A Better Louisiana, a non-profit organization.

These criteria left the majority of candidates with nothing to do but sit and watch as their opponents received crucial face time with potential voters. Some candidates chose to take action against the criteria for this debate. Troy Herbert, Beryl Billiot and Charles Marsala filed an injunction that was heard by Judge Tim Kelley of the 19th Judicial District Court last Thursday. The hearing was futile, because Kelley didn't see any reason to instruct the organizers of the debate to alter the criteria for admission.

Political experts say there is a conflict within this situation.

Former State Senator Troy Herbert was one of the three candidates to file the injunction regarding admission to the televised debate.   Ted Jackson - The Times-Picayune

“It’s great when everybody can be heard, but if you have 24 candidates in one debate, either you have to run the debate for several hours or no one can get into any kind of policy detail whatsoever," Christine Day, a professor at the University of New Orleans told the Louisiana Record.  "So I can understand why they would want to whittle it down to candidates who seem to have a chance of being elected."

Day said she understands the plight of the politicians who filed the injunction. But she also said there is a need for broadcasting companies to differentiate between candidates who have a chance and candidates who haven't substantiated their campaign. Jim Harris, coordinator of the Coalition For Common Sense, agreed with Day.

"More and more candidates are getting in, so it's almost impossible to have all of them and you have to have some basis to determine which candidates are in the running for some of the vote," Harris told the Louisiana Record. "The polls sort of give you that, as well as the money raised."

Harris  also had an idea that may help solve the problem of a lack of exposure for lesser-known candidates.

"Well, perhaps one thing would be to look at having debates that would occur way earlier than now when you have a multitude of candidates," he said. "At least the public can then get a taste of everyone who's running, including those who aren't presently able to generate the kind of enthusiasm needed to be selected as one of the final five or 10 candidates. So that might be one compromise."

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