Thursday, September 11, 2014

Debate-less Press Club series for state candidates

Through the combined efforts of the Akron Press Club and the Bliss Institute the  Akron area will get a closer view of some statewide candidates on the November ballot. Democrat State Rep. Connie Pillich, who is challenging Republican Treasurer Josh Mandel,  will open the fall series on Sept. 30.

Unfortunately,  there will be no political debates.  University of Akron political science professor David  Cohen, who does much of the  heavy lifting for the fall series, said the  process of setting up debates has simply become too complicated.

We experienced some of those complications when I served as the Press Club's program chairman.  Republicans simply  aren't keen on meeting  their Democratic opponents  on a debate  panel, particularly in Akron, where more than a few nitwits accused the Club of being a subversive Democratic hideaway.  (As Press Club president, I had at  least four Republicans on my board.) One critic even reported me to the national Veterans of Foreign Wars for catering to socialists!

In one instance,  we had succeeded in lining up a debate between Democrat Capri Cafaro, of Niles, Oh., and then-U.S.Rep, Steve LaTourette, a Lake County Republican.  We  later learned  that LaTourette had canceled his appearance for the age-old standby, a scheduling conflict. So Cafaro had the benefit of the entire program for herself.

The late U.S. Rep. John Seiberling, a towering Democrat who had  nothing to be gained from debates, agreed to more than a half-dozen encounters  with restaurateur, Mark Figitakis,  a Republicsn  running squarely and hyperactively  on the anti-abortion issue.  I covered the first one at the Tangier Restaurant  in which Seiberling calmly, cooly,  and collectively  left the Republican for dead.  (I told Seiberling  afterward that he  could debate as often as he wanted, but this was my first and last  one as a political writer.  He smiled gently and said he enjoyed  fulfilling his obligation to voters to debate, no matter what.)

Akron Mayor, Don Plusquellic, a Democrat , also accepted debate invitations from  the Press Club.   But over on the other side, Summit County Republican Chairman Alex Arshinkoff refused all attempts to haul him up to the debate panel against Republican Kevin Coughlin, who was challenging Arshinkoff for his job. The normally voluble  chairman flatly turned it down.    "I should have known," Coughlin told me.

I should have, too.


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