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A Big Ten Debate?

Most of us have heard about the Big Ten poll by now, but what about a Big Ten debate? While there is no debate being sponsored by the Big Ten, The 4th Debate is proposing a Presidential Debate in Madison, Wisconsin. The 4th Debate believes the League of Women Voters has the experience and non partisan standing for a debate of this magnitude.

At 10:00 this morning on The Ideas Network Kathleen Dunn will be talking to national and local representatives of the League of Women Voters. This is a great chance to call in to state that you wish the LWV were still in charge of the Presidential debates.  Express your desire for a debate that includes all the candidates who are on enough ballots to win the electoral college. Tell the LWV that the time has come for another mighty political experiment.

A Presidential Debate for All of America
October 23, 2008
Madison, Wisconsin

If you are about to read this proposal, it’s a certainty that you are among the millions who believe our quadrennial presidential campaigns desperately need a shot of authenticity.

Once again, the nation is on the eve of three events called presidential debates. By fiat, these bi-partisan affairs are now choreographed by just two campaigns, eliminating spontaneity at every turn. Because millions of Americans rely on debates to make their critical final decision, these debates must be as 1) democratic, 2) inclusive and 3) probing as possible. We assert the first scheduled debates will fail on all three tests.

This proposal, called The Fourth Debate, offers one additional opportunity for this 2008 campaign – one that is non-partisan, controlled by no campaign, and focused on the voters’ need to know. Our country deserves no less.

The League of Women Voters has an impeccable history of fighting for democratic initiatives. No other nationally-recognized entity is equipped to initiate and properly conduct non-partisan presidential debates. That “might political experiment continues today. Locally, the Know Your Candidate TV series, hosted by the League, was a must-watch for informed voters.

The Commission on Presidential Debates will not cede its total control of the debate process without a concrete challenge. For twenty years and with millions of words, all efforts to negotiate a more democratic process have proven fruitless. Only the League of Women Voters can make that challenge.

Because this year there are an unprecedented six candidates who meet a high ballot access threshold, i.e., a large majority of the nation have the opportunity to vote for any one of them, and because three represent a more conservative view, while three others represent a more liberal view, a broad and balanced spectrum of political view is available to the electorate in The Fourth Debate.

Candidates are now focused on swing states and will be until Election Day. The polls have shown that Wisconsin is one of many swing states in 2008. Wisconsin has been visited numerous times by the Democratic and Republican campaigns with more visits being planned.

Candidates are now focused on swing states and will be until Election Day. A recent “” poll showed that Wisconsin is one of seven Midwest states in which McCain and Obama are neck and neck. Wisconsin has been visited numerous times by the Democratic and Republican campaigns with more visits being planned. All the candidates are looking for votes. Surprisingly, none of the debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates occurs in any of the Big Ten States. Madison, Wisconsin is an ideal location for such a Midwest debate. It is centrally located within the region. A Midwest debate will prompt candidates to deal with topics such as the Great Lakes, agriculture, and the Rust Belt economy.

Further, Wisconsin has a history of enacting democratic mechanisms into its political process, such as same-day registration and accessible ballot provisions. Wisconsin is ready to lead the nation and change history by hosting The Fourth Debate.

Planning for The Fourth Debate has already begun.

The calendar has been carefully examined for unavoidable conflicts and a date has been determined. It is the evening of Thursday, October 23rd. The date is about a month away which offers any campaign the chance to include this very important, historic event in its schedule.

The venue has been selected. It is the beautiful, prestigious Monona Terrace in Wisconsin‘s state capital, Madison. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the facility has expert staff, plenty of parking, a convenient location, is only fifteen minutes from the airport and offers a variety of facilities and options. The Fourth Debate is currently on Monona Terrace’s calendar.

Campaign participation in the debate has not been determined yet. Because the League requires the event to be non-partisan, the debate must be open to a broader field of candidates. The most inclusive threshold, while limiting inclusion to truly national candidates is the one suggested by John Nichols (see addendum). The threshold of achieving national ballot access would require invitations to these six campaigns (in alphabetical order): Baldwin, Barr, McCain, McKinney, Obama, and Nader (see addendum).”

The format for the debate is yet to be determined. We suggest a single moderator debate with the moderator selected from persons who have spoken out for reform of the debate process (see addendum). An exciting alternative would be a youth debate, guaranteed to awaken the younger voter and those who have yet to vote. Other options have their strong points.
The audience could be selected by the campaigns that accept the League’s invitation in equal proportions. If there are four candidates, approximately one-fourth of the tickets go to each campaign. Endorsing groups (see below) would each receive four tickets for the event. Total audience would number not more than 300.

While it is understood that the League is the sole sponsor of The Fourth Debate, important interest groups based in Wisconsin could be encouraged to to endorse The Fourth Debate. Dozens of public and special interest groups want to be counted as supporters of a more vibrant and genuine campaign process. Volunteers are ready to invite these interest groups to attend. Further, with a broad spectrum of endorsing groups, all invited campaigns will value participating in The Fourth Debate.

Electronic media involvement should be pre-determined and their impact on the proceeding should be minimized to avoid any partiality. We suggest one feed to all outlets and that Wisconsin Public Television be given the first offer. Intrusion by equipment should be kept to an absolute minimum.

Campaigns would be responsible for all expenses, with the exception of any common expenses, such as the venue rental and equipment for common use.

Financial Support:
It is unclear what untoward expenses would be incurred by sponsorship of The Fourth Debate, beyond the venue charges and some clerical, technical fees. All parties would be responsible for providing in-kind contributions. If needed, endorsing groups should be asked to contribute a nominal sum to defray expenses.

The CPD stranglehold must be broken.

The Fourth Debate provides the League of Women Voters with a unique, state-focused debate with national candidates. We believe this is the only way to break the CPD stranglehold now.
Major candidates will see the need to participate.

We believe that because Wisconsin is a swing state, and The Fourth Debate will be endorsed by dozens of influential interest groups, the major candidates will find it difficult to refuse the offer to participate. If they refuse, it will only be another testament to the paucity of our democracy. But, if they consent to The Fourth Debate, it will signal a major shift in Presidential campaigns for years to come. The upside opportunity is momentous. A legitimate debate will include more candidates.

Three candidates from each political spectrum, left and right, have qualified for serious consideration by voters. While two have the benefit of non-stop coverage since announcing their candidacy, others have no coverage to speak of. This chicken-or-the-egg dilemma spawned by low poll numbers v. campaign media coverage threatens our democracy and debate events provide the opportunity for voters to test and compare without media screening and bias.

In summation, The Fourth Debate believes 2008 is the year to take a stand. We believe the League of Women Voters is capable of drawing a line in the sand. We, The Fourth Debate, will stand with the League and work hard to see it through.

Briana Nestler, Madison, co-chair
Dick Kaiser, Sister Bay, co-chair
Nichole Williams, Milwaukee, co-chair