‘Free & Equal’ Foundation presses for inclusive, open debates

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published: 15-Oct-2010

Prompted by exclusion of minor party and independent candidates from debates nationwide, The Free and Equal Elections Foundation (“Free and Equal”) is pressing toward its objective of open and inclusive political debates for all candidates. Free and Equal has launched an online petition calling for open, all-inclusive debates.

The Free and Equal Debate Tour kicks off Wednesday, October 20, with the Connecticut U.S. Senate Debate. The event will run from 8:30 – 9:30 p.m. EDT and will be held in the Student Union Ballroom (Room 330) at the University of Connecticut, Storrs Campus. This debate is sponsored by the student organization Idealists United and Free and Equal.

The second debate, a back-to-back event for Illinois gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidates, is scheduled for Thursday, October 21, at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. The debate will take place in the Carl Sandburg Auditorium in Holmes Student Center. U.S. Senate candidates will be heard first from 6 – 7:30 p.m. CDT, followed by the gubernatorial debate from 8 – 9:30 p.m. This debate is sponsored by the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity and Free and Equal.

California State University, Sacramento will host the final debate of the series for California’s gubernatorial candidates. The event will take place Thursday, October 28, time and venue to be announced. This debate is sponsored by Students for Liberty and Free and Equal.

“As corporations funnel record amounts of money into our country’s two dominant political parties, it couldn’t be a more vital time to protect our right to open and inclusive political discourse. All voices deserve to be heard, not just those speaking on behalf of multi-national corporate interests,” said Christina Tobin, founder and chair of Free and Equal. Tobin is also the Libertarian Party for California secretary of state.

Tobin also spoke at this year’s Global Forum on Direct Democracy in San Francisco. She is a close ally of four-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader, who visited Oklahoma City recently advocating ballot access reform.

A scheduled back-to-back debate for Oklahoma’s gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidates was canceled recently, Tobin said in a release sent to CapitolBeatOK. Her group was the cancellation was due in large part to lack of response from candidates.

Tobin’s release expressed some frustration with the state of ballot reform in the Sooner State, saying, “Even as the noose begins to tighten on what little access third-party candidates have to the electoral process, apathy toward this issue remains a problem. Oklahoma candidates were unresponsive to the call for an open, all-inclusive debate, causing the event to be placed on hold indefinitely.”

There is some evidence of intensifying interest in, and reaction to, ballot access issues. The California Green Party gubernatorial candidate, Laura Wells, was arrested Tuesday (October 12), when she attempted to attend the gubernatorial debate held at Dominican University of California in San Rafael. Wells and the three other minor party candidates for California governor were not invited to participate in the debate, which featured only the Democratic candidate, Jerry Brown, and the Republican candidate, Meg Whitman, despite all six candidates being ballot qualified for the general election.

According to news reports, both Wells and her spokeswoman, Marnie Glickman, had tickets and were trying to attend the event as spectators. After initially being accepted into the debate, both women were asked to step away from the building. Wells was arrested and removed from the premises in a police squad car.

Free & Equal describes itself as “a nonpartisan, nonprofit, public-policy advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the rights of the politically marginalized and disenfranchised.”