More Debates, Please

October 12, 1994

Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the Republican nominee for governor, was on target in her opening comments at the Maryland Chamber of Commerce's legislative conference in Ocean City on Monday night: there should be more debates between her and Democratic nominee Parris N. Glendening. Many, many more. That only two more are scheduled before the Nov. 8 election is unacceptable.

The Ocean City confrontation illustrated why a series of face-to-face meetings is in order. It was a spirited encounter. The two nominees forcefully presented their widely divergent views.

Their differences and their similarities were there for everyone in the audience to see. Yet only about 350 business leaders and lobbyists witnessed the debate -- no live television broadcast took place. Even videotaping was barred.

Both Ms. Sauerbrey and Mr. Glendening say this is the clearest choice in decades for Maryland voters. That being the case, shouldn't citizens be given every opportunity to hear the candidates?

Ironically, Mr. Glendening eagerly participated in dozens and dozens of candidate forums, along with Ms. Sauerbrey, during the primary. Now, suddenly, he can't find the time.

The reason is that Mr. Glendening believes he has little to gain from a series of televised debates. He'd rather campaign by way of TV ads in which he lambastes Ms. Sauerbrey. He knows that the Republican nominee has accepted public financing for this campaign and is on a limited spending budget. Thus, she doesn't have the resources to respond to the Glendening attacks, one by one. He's not about to give up that advantage.

Similarly, the U.S. Senate race finds entrenched incumbent Democrat Paul S. Sarbanes avoiding appearances with Republican nominee Bill Brock. You'd think Mr. Brock had the pneumonic plague. Mr. Sarbanes rejected an early Brock effort to set a series of debates across the state. After all, Mr. Sarbanes is the incumbent, he's far better known, he has a huge lead in the polls and he doesn't want to give Mr. Brock free TV exposure.

At the moment, there will be only one Brock-Sarbanes debate, Oct. 29 on Maryland Public Television. There are just two Glendening-Sauerbrey joint appearances left, next Tuesday on a Montgomery County cable station, and a week from today on Maryland Public Television.

Given the importance of these two offices, multiple debates should be required in statewide general elections. Why intentionally try to keep voters in the dark? It's not fair.

We urge both Mr. Sarbanes and Mr. Glendening to take another look at their schedules and their unwillingness to go before the public in televised debates. There's no reason to hide. Throwing a spotlight on the policies and positions of the candidates for governor and U.S. Senator would prove healthy for the Maryland electorate.

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