Louisiana Senate debate field too limited

Jim Brown

There are 24 candidates in the running for the open U.S. Senate seat in Louisiana. A televised debate has been set on the state’s public television network for Oct. 18 to give Louisiana voters a chance to size up the candidates. But there will only be five contenders in the debate. And the losers are the voters.
Louisiana is the only state in the nation to hold a convoluted open primary, where all candidates run at the same time, regardless of party or independent affiliation. There are no party primaries. So the result has too often allowed the extreme candidates on both the left and the right to get into a run off.
Party primaries allow consensus candidates to emerge that better reflect the views of a majority of voters. Oh, but party primaries are obsolete, a number of good government groups allege. If that’s the case, why is Louisiana the only state to adopt such a system? I guess, like in so many other areas of government reform, the Bayou State is just way ahead of the curve. Yeah, right!
The statewide public television network, paid for by taxpayer dollars, has allowed an outside private organization called the Council for a Better Louisiana to pick and choose who will be allowed on the debate stage. According to the Advocate, the CABL group “drew a line and invited the candidates they deemed to be the most serous of the bunch.”
So we are to believe there are only five “serious candidates” with the other 19 just tagging along for the ride.
When public tax dollars are involved, no private organization should be calling the shots of who can make their case to voters and who will be left out. If CABL or any other groups want to hold a debate at their expense, so be it. But allowing any private group to dictate who should be included when taxpayer dollars are footing the bill is both wrong, and probably a violation of the law.
In fact, a lawsuit was filed just this week by candidate and former State Sen. Troy Hebert alleging the unfairness and outright illegality of allowing public funds to discriminate as to who is in and who is out of the debate. In previous debates sponsored by CABL, a candidate had to raise a minimum of $250,000, which seems to be a reasonable amount. But now the group has raised the total to $1 million, which appears to be unreasonably high. Remember that Donald Trump had not raised anywhere close to this amount at the time of his first presidential debate.
There are several candidates who, in the words of CABL, should not be considered “serious.” Retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness, a Republican, garnered 15 percent of the statewide vote just two years ago in his race for U.S. Senate that was won by current incumbent Bill Cassidy. A former U.S. Congressman, Joseph Cao, is in the mix and has a Washington perspective to offer. David Duke, who has run as high as 12 percent in recent polls, more than twice the threshold set by CABL, could certainly liven up the debate. Trump, in his early campaign efforts, was so well known that he did not need to raise that much campaign cash. Duke is in the same category with his name recognition, whether it’s positive or negative.
But regardless of the polling numbers or amount of campaign dollars a candidate raises, it’s disturbing that a small group of businessmen can dictate who can be the beneficiary of taxpayers’ dollars. The Louisiana Pubic Broadcasting network, the debate sponsor, is doing a public disservice by allowing such a process.
The Legislature can do two things to vastly improve the process. Get rid of the current “jungle primary” system that has been rejected by every other state in the nation. And put tighter limits on how private organizations can dictate how public agencies spend taxpayer dollars. The public deserves better than it is receiving by current process.
“The American people are demanding more competitive and inclusive elections, not less.” — Former Sen. Joe Lieberman
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday from 9 to 11 a.m. on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at www.jimbrownusa.com.


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