Murray, Rossi need to be more accessible/My Turn

For many places in the United States, Election Day 2010 will begin and end on Nov. 2, the first Tuesday after the first Monday in the 11th month of the year.

Here, however, Election Month will begin in mid-October, when ballots are mailed out. That means that there isn’t much time left before we start voting. At stake are nine seats in the U.S. House, 98 in the state house, and about half of the state Senate’s 49 seats.

There’s also (as we’re reminded daily on television) a U.S. Senate seat at stake. We must decide whether to keep Patty Murray or replace her with Dino Rossi.

There is no question that Murray and Rossi are far apart on many issues. Ideologically, they are very different. But they are similar in one unfortunate respect: They are both shielded by top-down campaigns which seem obsessed with controlling and limiting access.

It seems like the candidates and their surrogates care more about winning the air war (think of all those dueling ads we see on television) than getting in front of actual voters.

Consequently, raising money to pay for those ads has become a top priority. So campaigns keep candidates behind closed doors and charge a steep entry fee.

For example, when Murray’s campaign brought President Obama to Seattle, they barred local media outlets from going inside the two fundraisers they held. Murray’s campaign said the White House was in charge of media access; the White House said it wasn’t credentialing press because it was Murray’s event. To be fair, a pool was permitted to accompany the President everywhere he went, so at least one reporter was documenting what the Commander in Chief said and did for the benefit of the rest of the press corps. Conversely, when George Bush held the office, his handlers would lock even the pool outside of fundraisers.

Why didn’t Murray’s campaign at least schedule a rally to balance out the fundraisers, which cost $500 or more to get into? That would have at least allowed more of Murray’s own volunteers and supporters to catch a glimpse of Barack Obama. And the President enjoys lifting people’s spirits at a rally. He did it many times while on the trail in 2008.

Dino Rossi, meanwhile, has held even fewer staged events than Murray, and his campaign has gotten into the bad habit of waiting until the hour is late to inform reporters that something has been scheduled to which they are invited. When Rossi has something to say, whether it’s prepared remarks at an event, a press release, or a newsletter, he tends to speak in generalities and platitudes.

Murray will at least go into specifics when she’s answering a question; Rossi is a lot harder to pin down. He has yet to reconcile his stated objective of reducing the deficit, for instance, with his support for extending the Bush tax cuts. He hasn’t presented an actual plan for reducing the deficit; he simply wants us all to believe he’ll get it done if we merely elect him.

Sorry, that’s not good enough.

His supporters will point out that he’s agreed to more debates than Murray has - her campaign only wants to do two - but it is not unusual for a challenger to want more televised debates than an incumbent. Debates can be informative, but more important than the quantity of debates is their quality. Too often they are sponsored by television stations which have a panel of pundits and reporters asking the questions, and a recognizable anchor (who likes to talk!) as the moderator.

A better format would be an unscripted exchange with questions asked by voters. Unscripted debates, like unscripted campaigns, are good for democracy.

Patty Murray and Dino Rossi owe it to the people of Washington to campaign out in the open and make an effort to meet as many voters as they can. They should answer questions honestly, and not be afraid to show us that they’re human. Nobody has the answers to everything. If our problems were so easily solved, then they would have been solved already.

Here’s hoping that our two Senate hopefuls will recognize that Washingtonians want them to be more accessible in these final weeks. More retail politics and less stagecraft, please!

Editor’s Note: A televised debate took place between Rossi and Murray on Oct. 14.

(Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute. He can be reached at andrew@nwprogressive.org.)

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