Gubernatorial Debate in Wayne Canceled

WAYNE – There will be no second gubernatorial debate for the voters of Nebraska after an ultimatum from the Ricketts campaign went unanswered by Krist.

On August 31, Luke Virgil, Executive Director of WAED, announced to both campaigns that they had secured NET to conduct the debate. Mr. Virgil indicated that their sponsorship of the proposed debate “is predicated on fairness for and impartiality towards both campaigns. Wayne Area Economic Development’s primary purpose in hosting/sponsoring a gubernatorial debate has been (and will remain) to expose a large majority of Nebraskans to both candidates and to create a well-informed electorate.”

After this announcement by WAED, the debate seemed to be perched on the precarious ledge of cancellation, with the Ricketts campaign expressing doubt as to NET’s impartiality, with Ricketts’ campaign attorney Mark Fahleson saying in an email, “While I understand the Krist campaign’s desire to include NET as a media partner, unfortunately I don’t share that same confidence in NET, certainly not to the extent that NET should be the exclusive media representative, serve as a moderator or dictate the terms of the debate. As you may know, NET receives over $10 million/year in funding from the state and, thus, cannot be considered a disinterested party.”

NET has conducted numerous debates of the kind, with Ricketts’ having participated in one such debate before his initial election to the office of Governor.

Dan Parsons, communications director for Krist for Governor, questioned whether Ricketts ever had any intention of participating in the September 21st debate. “The Krist campaign agreed to the debate with NET as a sponsor and has not changed that position. Senator Krist was prepared to and is still willing to debate the governor at Wayne State College with statewide news coverage from NET. Senator Krist has in no way changed his plan or willingness to participate in the debate at Wayne,” Parsons said.

Parsons also revealed that C-SPAN has been in contact with interest in broadcasting the debate nationwide. “This would have been not only a great opportunity for the people of Wayne and the people of Nebraska to learn more about the candidates but for people across the country to learn about Nebraska.” Parsons said.

The Ricketts campaign blames the failed debate on noncommunicative behavior from the Krist campaign. In a press release, the Ricketts campaign stated that they retained a lawyer, the aforementioned Mark Fahleson, to attempt to negotiate debate terms with Krist. Fahleson reportedly sent five emails requesting a meeting to discuss specific terms for the debate, listed as:

•             Moderator
•             Media partners
•             Method for determining who goes first/last
•             Format- Opening/Closing/Answer Length/Rebuttal
•             Staging- Audio/Visual
•             Audience tickets
•             Signage
•             Green Rooms

Yesterday, Fahleson resent the email with an ultimatum to the Krist campaign: respond by midnight with a meeting time or consider the debate cancelled. “If we can’t reach agreement by 12 midnight tonight as to when we can even meet to discuss these open issues, I’ll have no choice but to conclude that the Krist campaign has cancelled the debate.”

This morning, the Ricketts campaign declared the debate canceled, but blamed the Krist campaign: “As of 12:01 AM CT, having not responded to Mr. Fahleson’s message and all other attempts to arrange a meeting, the Krist campaign has cancelled the Wayne debate.”

“This is what Bob Krist wanted from the beginning,” said Ricketts campaign Director of Communications Matthew Trail. “Krist has again played the media in a desperate attempt to garner headlines while avoiding accountability for his abysmal record.”

No matter who is to blame for the debate falling through, it is now the people of Nebraska who will miss out on an opportunity to become a better educated electorate. The second gubernatorial debate in Wayne appears to be canceled for good, and will not be held on the previously scheduled date of September 21st.