Let’s Debate.

Over the next month and a half or so, you are going to see lots of ads and “information” about candidates running for office. The ads will often time be attacking, often distorting the truth, and often taking things out of context.


You will also see so called “forums” with candidates.

In these forums, the candidates are asked questions that are either prepared by the forum moderator or generated by the public themselves. In some ways, a forum is a good basic way of getting candidates’ messages out there. However, the problem is that after the second or third forum, the candidates have refined their answers to where the public does not get new information. The same answers from the first forum are asked and the same answers from the first forum are given.

We’d like to see something different.

We’d like to see a return to a debate – a real honest to goodness debate.

While many Americans are familiar with or have heard of the 1858 debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, many people don’t realize that the debate was used in political campaigns long before that.

The debate is effective in that it allows not only an answer to a question, but a rebuttal from the other candidate and further rebuttals on what is said. A candidate is given “x” amount of minutes to make a statement and or rebut what the opposition has said.

This does two things, both of which are important and both of which are more enlightening than simple “ask a question forums.”

First, it shows the depth of understanding of an issue. You have to be well versed and well prepared not only to state your own case, but to find the flaws in your opponent’s position and show why the opponent is wrong. You don’t get that in question type forums.

Secondly, the debate style event is one where the candidates have to convince people they, and not their opponent are right, have a better knowledge of the issue, etc.

Yesterday we talked about how elected officials should not automatically vote based on the wishes of the majority. Elected officials should listen and then vote for what is right in their minds. An unsaid part of that is that the elected official should explain their votes and their positions to the extent that even if people don’t agree with them, they can feel the vote and position was based on reasoning, and not simply someone behind the curtain telling an elected official to vote a certain way.

In other words, debates don’t allow canned and prepared responses like forums do. They expose candidates that cannot think on their feet and lift up those candidates who can. Debates have the ability to expose the flaws on a candidate’s position and way of thinking far beyond what a forum does.

In fact, many forums now have rules in place where if in an answer, a candidate mentions the other candidate’s position, the other candidate is given time to respond. What happens is that candidates are careful not to address the other candidate or their position because they don’t want to give them more “mic time.”

We here at Raised on Hoecakes cover three cities and Brevard County. (If you’d like to help write on the blog and discuss issues in your city, contact us. We are always looking to expand and looking for more writers because what happens in one city happens in others.)

The issues facing these areas are deep and complex. For Brevard County, it is roads, infrastructure and the lagoon. For Cocoa Beach, it is the height and density issue (which is on the ballot as an amendment,) the “cancer cluster,” soil / water contamination and remediation. For Palm bay, it is roads, infrastructure and how to address them (which is on the ballot as a referendum) but also the horrible corruption and perception of corruption within the City itself.

None – and we mean none – of those issues and the candidates’ stances on those issues can be addressed within a 90 second response in a forum. When the public has put hours and hours into their research on these issues, it is ludicrous to think that a candidate can boil down the options and state what is right or wrong (in their opinion) in a couple of minutes.

It just cannot happen.

As an example, in one of the Palm Bay forums hosted by Florida Today, the question was asked about corruption in Palm Bay. Three candidates gave answers that were quite different. The first said that the City needed to clean up and clean up now by holding people within the City government accountable for their actions and getting rid of those who violate the law and the public trust. The second candidate said they wanted to wait for the JLAC review and then take any courses of action stemming from that review. The third candidate stated that they thought the situation wasn’t as bad as people thought and that even if people within City Hall broke the rules and or laws, they were mostly “well intentioned.”

Because of the format of a forum, the public was never able to hear the candidate’s flesh out their responses and say what they thought were problems with their opponents’ answers. Candidates were not given the chance to convince the public that their position was right and the other candidates were wrong.

We’d love to see a return to actual debates. We love to see candidates have to think on their feet. We’d love to see candidate talk not only about what they believe, but what is different and wrong in their opponent’s position and why they are right.

A big part of leadership is the ability to convince people that what you are doing is the right path to take.

Forums don’t allow for anyone to be convinced and only allow for the same repeated positions stated over and over.

Debates allow for critical thought and for people to be convinced.

Convince us.


4 Responses to “Let’s Debate.”

  1. Percy Veer says:

    While I love a good debate my concern would be that just because a candidate is a smooth talker and quick on his/her feet (ie, a politician) doesn’t necessarily mean they would be the best qualified to run the government. Too often a smooth or charismatic character is put in office because they come across as knowledgeable and well spoken but turn out to be severely lacking in character and integrity. From the last presidential election debates it seemed the candidates were trained to just deliver prepackaged sound bites as their answers no matter what the subject being discussed.

    But it would be a new method to glean some additional insight so I’d watch, but I’d look deeper than just who says the things I want to hear and who sounds best.

    • AAfterwit says:

      Percy Veer,

      Thanks for the comment.

      But it would be a new method to glean some additional insight so I’d watch, but I’d look deeper than just who says the things I want to hear and who sounds best.

      We agree. Part of what we are trying to say is that candidates – even local candidates – can practice for the 90 second answers a forum demands. That’s not the same thing as not only having the time a debate would afford to discuss complex issues, but also to have to show why the opponent is wrong and why you are right.

      A good example might be the Williams / Tumulty race for seat 5 up in Cocoa Beach.

      Tumulty is an empty suit who is great with one liners, but can’t think well on his feet and only makes points by being in a position of authority. Williams is not a particularly good speaker, but the depth of knowledge, logic and foresight he brings to complex issues is welcome. That’s what we’d want to see in a debate.

      You may not have seen or remember when Tumulty was on the Cocoa Beach City Commission, but when Williams made verbose, step by step, logical presentations, Tumulty, (who is the more polished “politician”) would sit there with a glazed look in his eyes. It was as if he couldn’t follow Williams even though the rest of the world could. He seldom, if ever could rebut the things Williams said because he didn’t have the depth of knowledge Williams had.

      We don’t always agree with Williams, but our disagreements are on principle, not on him being a puppet of some people or having a hand up his back while his mouth moved and others spoke.

      That type of difference is what we want to see in a debate. It is not something that you can get in a forum.

      We aren’t saying that we should only have debates or that debates should replace forums. We are saying that both should be used to inform the public of the candidates’ stances, and just how well versed they are on those positions.

      Thanks again!

      A. Afterwit.

  2. Percy Veer says:

    I agree with your comments regarding the upcoming Cocoa Beach Commissioners and am ever hopeful that the majority of residents will also see through Tumulty’s thin veneer. If you’re in doubt over which candidate would better represent the residents go to the city’s website and see who is financing them. Also, it’s hard to avoid all his video’s on the hotel/developer websites which show who is supporting him. With all the Environmental problems we have with the lagoon and overcrowding on the roads do we really need more development right now? Commissioner Williams seems to support smart and controlled growth, not just whatever the big developers want to do.

    Our other big issue this election is the height amendment which the majority of the commission is advocating for but that’s a whole other story and I don’t want to hijack your “debate” thread any more.

    I doubt we’d have any luck with a Williams/Tumulty debate as Tumulty didn’t even show up for the Citizens Action Committee forum, this seems to be a trend amongst the pro-development commissioners.

    • AAfterwit says:

      Percy Veer,

      Thanks for the comment.

      Feel free to hijack. If worse comes to worse, we can move the comments as a thread. Commenters like yourself have earned the respect of our staff because you don’t call people names, you treat people with respect, you generally stay on topic (or close enough to it so it doesn’t matter) and you seem like a decent person.

      We have no issue with you at all. You’ve earned some leeway.

      As for Tumulty and the videos on the hoteliers Facebook pages, it is our understanding that he has started to use Williams’ campaign slogan (the one Williams has used for years) in the videos. If that is the case, that shows the type of person that he is morally. If you can’t come up with your own slogan and have to steal that of your opponent, what kind of leader will you be?

      Integrity matters.

      Thanks again.

      A. Afterwit.