Are California politicians giving the voters short shrift by refusing to debate this year? The lack of enthusiasm for the November election, which appears likely to have a record low turnout, certainly isn’t helped by statewide candidates who won’t engage each other on the issues.
Gov. Jerry Brown agreed to hold his one showdown with Republican challenger Neel Kashkari on the same night as the National Football League’s season-opener. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Kamala Harris seem to be cruising to victory without paying their Republican opponents any mind. State schools chief Tom Torlakson and Marshall Tuck have appeared in several public forums in the hotly contested race for state superintendent of public instruction, but that office is nonpartisan and Torlakson and Tuck are both Democrats.
Only the candidates for secretary of state are bucking the no-debate trend in partisan statewide races. State Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, and Republican institute director Pete Peterson are scheduled to debate tonight at 6:30 p.m. in Berkeley – the sixth time the two have appeared together to answer questions. After participating in two forums during the primary campaign, they have squared off twice more in the past month to discuss experience, mail ballots and the tenure of the woman they seek to succeed, Secretary of State Debra Bowen.
It’s perhaps a good sign for the office – after all, Padilla and Peterson are running to be California’s chief elections officer, and both are promising to turn around sagging voter participation and registration rates. David Becker, director of election initiatives at Pew Charitable Trusts, recently told The Bee that the California contest stands out.
“If you look at the rest of the states, there are ideological battles being waged,” he said. “You don’t see that in California. I’ve been impressed by the level of discourse all around. They both want to do this job.”
The debates might also be a result of the race’s uniquely competitive nature in a year lacking for close statewide contests. A Field Poll last month showed Peterson trailing Padilla by seven points, the smallest margin of any Republican seeking statewide office this year.