Capitol Alert

California debate organizers threatened to cancel

Before the debate came the question – and no small controversy – about whether California’s gubernatorial candidates would sit or stand.

Debate organizers, in an email late Wednesday to Republican Neel Kashkari’s campaign, threatened to cancel the Thursday night debate with Gov. Jerry Brown unless Kashkari agreed to sit for the duration of the event.

Kashkari had asked to stand, his campaign said, because he has a bad back and is more comfortable standing.

Kevin Eckery, a consultant representing the debate sponsors, said in an email to the Kashkari campaign, “I’m afraid we may be at an impasse.”

“This is something the sponsors have been clear about,” Eckery said in the email to Kashkari campaign manager Pat Melton. “For reasons you have already discussed with members of the production team, the need to have candidates seated in the studio is not an arbitrary decision. It’s a physical reality of the studio space. Three media representatives, two candidates and a floor director sharing a crowded set means we have to have seated, stationary candidates to make the production work.”

Kashkari relented, allowing the campaign’s first – and likely only – debate to go forward. But the dispute highlighted his frustration with a debate process that favors Brown.

The incumbent governor, who is far ahead of Kashkari in fundraising and public opinion polls, has little incentive to debate and agreed to only one confrontation before Election Day.

KQED’s John Myers, the moderator of the debate, said in a blog post Thursday that Brown insisted this week – unusually early in the election season – was the only time the governor would debate.

He said “the media partners picked the actual day and time without any input from outsiders, but Kashkari and his advisers are angry that Brown had so much leverage.”

In an email Thursday accepting the condition that Kashkari sit, Melton said the campaign intends “to pursue all private and public avenues for recourse against the unprofessional behavior of the debate sponsors during this process.”

He wrote, “Initial discussions took place bilaterally between the debate sponsors and the Governor’s campaign, including the timing of the debate. We received the debate invitation August 18 stating that both campaigns would be consulted, yet we have had no input into the debate terms. The only issue we raised was rejected.”

The debate is being produced jointly by KQED, the Los Angeles Times, The California Channel and Telemundo California.

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