Saturday, September 20, 2008

Debates in PA-11

Pocono Record
September 19, 2008

To debate or not to debate: That is the question.

U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-11, says he does not have enough time to participate in more than one debate with his Republican challenger Lou Barletta during this hotly contested campaign season. That single debate is planned for Wednesday, Oct. 29, at WVIA public television studio in Pittston, and will be televised.

Oct. 29 is a scant week before the election. It's not enough time. It's not enough face-to-face discussion between separate campaigns that have already stretched over weeks and months.

Barletta, mayor of Hazleton, says he is willing to debate in every county in the district, which encompasses all of Monroe, Carbon and Columbia counties as well as parts of Luzerne and Lackawanna counties, including Wilkes-Barre and Scranton. That's a diverse district. Fast-growing Monroe County, for example, with its near-constant school construction and newcomer-old-timer conflicts, has vastly different issues from many other parts of the district. Surely a debate here would be a golden opportunity for Pocono area residents to see which candidate is better attuned to issues that are important here in the northeast.

Kanjorski spent some time Monday in Monroe County attending the grand opening of Chaperone Technologies, a new company joining East Stroudsburg University's Business Accelerator unit of high-tech startups. He had helped provide federal funding for the accelerator and said the only reason he was able to attend was that he was en route to Washington, D.C., for a voting session.

Barletta is running his second challenge to the 12-term incumbent. The feisty mayor made a national name for himself by taking a hard line on illegal immigration in Hazleton. A court ruling later overturned as unconstitutional an ordinance he pushed through. Barletta is spoiling for more opportunities to take on Kanjorski directly.

Debates do showcase candidates out of a choreographed comfort zone, answering questions from the public and batting the issues back and forth. The forum gives those attending and those watching on television, when the event is aired, an opportunity to watch and compare not only the candidates' answers but how they handle themselves under the pressure of a public event that challenges them to think on their feet. The Pocono Record would be more than willing to host such a debate at a venue of the candidates' choosing.

Kanjorski should re-think his one-debate-only declaration. Sure, he's busy — who isn't? — and likely busier than most. But he's asking citizens to vote for him. He ought to be willing to face their questions in person. Only then can they decide to vote or not to vote for Kanjorski or Barletta.

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