Across the river in Oregon, debates have been making headlines today.
Gubernatorial candidates Gov. John Kitzhaber and Dennis Richardson “sparred” in Sunriver. And Monica Wehby, who is hoping to oust Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.,  generated a lot of media attention when she decided not to participate in a debate sponsored by The Oregonian and KGW, considered a hallmark of the election cycle.
Here in Clark County, a quieter conversation (a debate?) over the meaning of the word took place.
In my most recent story about Bob Dingethal and Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas,  which ran in Thursday’s paper, I wrote the two candidates “have yet to face each other in a debate, and have none scheduled.”
I did mention the candidates have a candidate forum on the books. They have a forum scheduled in Camas on Oct. 13 and are scheduled to speak at the Woodland Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 14.
Casey Bowman, Herrera Beutler’s spokesman, took issue with my statement, noting the candidates have “three side-by-side forums and debates” on the books.
“If you watch Jaime and her opponent on CVTV, you will see a back and forth as both answer questions about the exact same issues.  The moderator gives time for rebuttal after the other has answered the question.  This exchange will be televised and available for residents across Clark County.  If it’s not a debate, what would you call it?” Bowman wrote in an email.
Bowman has some good points; the two candidates go back-and-forth, they are asked to answer similar questions, sometimes they respond directly to each other’s point.
I have always thought of a debate as something that happens in front of a live audience, where candidates engage with each other, where there are formal time constraints. I picture podiums, candidates going head-to-head, some mud slinging!
But according to the dictionary, a debate is “a formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward.”
I asked Jim Moore, the Director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation, to take a look at the CVTV interview and weigh in.
“Not a debate,” Moore wrote in an email. “The candidates are addressing the moderator. They are not debating with each other. This follows in the “joint appearances” tradition. Even with differences on issues (I saw CRC and borders and immigration), they are just providing answers to questions, not engaging with each other in a true test of ideas. In effect they put their ideas out there for the viewers, possibly stress their differences, and leave it at that.”
But Moore noted the definition of a debate has evolved over time and continues to do so.
It used to be candidates would fire off questions directly at each other. Then, with the advent of television, debates changed to meet the medium.
It seems everyone has a slightly different definition. Kim Abel, president of the Washington State League of Women Voters of Washington, which sponsors a lot of candidate forums and debates, said, “I think there is usually an audience with a debate.”
But she added, they haven’t really “thought about it in detail.” Their goal is to simply get candidates in front of voters.
Just for good measure, I contacted Marvin Case, the former editor and publisher of The Reflector, who interviewed Herrera Beutler and Dingethal.
Case also happens to be a high school debate judge.
“I did not consider it a debate,” he said “It was a side-by-side interview would be the phrase.”
Then Case asked, “why does it matter?”
You tell me, was it a debate? Does it matter?
Lauren Dake

Lauren Dake

Lauren Dake covers politics for The Columbian. You can reach her at 360-735-4534 or Follow her on Twitter .

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