Properly executed with fair, clearly established rules of engagement, there is nothing more stimulating or perhaps impactful to help voters understand the platform, priorities and policies of candidates for public office than a public debate.
Certainly that is the case with one of Greater Memphis' most important elected positions, the Tennessee 9th District Congressional seat, now held by Rep. Steve Cohen.
In a district where many continue to struggle with inadequate access to health care, joblessness, escalating gas prices, inadequate educational options, crime and violence, as well as myriad other life challenges that could be positively impacted by federal legislation and resources, it would seem that a public forum or debate of some kind would be not only expected but demanded by the community.
Similarly, it would seem the candidate(s) and particularly any incumbent in the seat, would clearly see the need to provide constituents with an open debate on the issues. A public forum allowing for detailed questions and responses, challenges and rebuttals – all centered on the primary issues and legislation impacting the lives of voters – seems to me a "no brainer" to be held every two years, either during the primary election or during the general election or both.
Congressman Cohen has a track record in the position that can be evaluated, but in a rapidly changing and challenging world, it is both good and necessary to inform voters as to how he plans to deal with current and anticipated issues and what resources might be brought to bear to improve their quality of life over the next two years.
Dr. George Flinn, in asking voters to make a change, has no congressional track record and has as much – and possibly an even greater – need to establish credibility with voters around his platform, priorities and policies.
Both should have a keen sense of responsibility to provide the highest level of information to the voters of District 9 in way that allows them to compare and contrast candidates, platforms and policies in deciding who is best suited to represent their best interest.
Dr. Flinn is a highly successful doctor and entrepreneur. In fact, following a recent car accident, I had X-rays done at one of his numerous clinics around the Greater Memphis community. So as a doctor, a business owner, former County Commissioner and maybe even a rap enthusiast (if not rap star), certainly he is no stranger to many in the community. His campaign treasury reports thus far reflect that he is running a mostly self-financed campaign, and he has shown a propensity in prior races to spend millions to get his message out.
Congressman Cohen, no pauper himself, has a well-financed campaign. It's also diversely financed, with the potential to spend heavily on advertising to get his message out. Undoubtedly he will soon begin to flex his advertising muscles to spread his message as early voting starts.
I will concede that multi-media advertising (television, radio, print, web) is a large (and growing) part of the political world and probably moves some voters one way or another. However, it certainly should not be the only forum by which voters have a chance to decide the candidate that best represents their interest. Advertising is just that a tool to show the best side of the product or person that's being promoted regardless of all the facts that could possibly impact a consumer's decision to buy or to vote. Congressional offices are much too important to be decided exclusively on the basis of a great ad campaign.
No barrage of 30-second commercials or full-page newspaper ads or email blasts can or should take the place of open and hopefully honest and well-moderated public debates. It seems to me the only real reasons for candidates not to debate would be purely political, self-serving and wholeheartedly against the best interest of the voters of the 9th Congressional District.
In my assessment, if multiple public debates are good enough and deemed necessary for the President and Vice President of the United States and their challengers, certainly at least one debate should be considered by those desiring to represent this community in congress.