The Idaho Debates are an election year tradition and have been a campaign staple for years. The platform gives candidates a chance to state their goals and campaign talking points on the air, broadcasted across the state.
This year’s debates are different than years past due to key debates being canceled.
“Idaho Public Television reaches 98% of Idaho households over the air so whether our viewers are watching from Challis or Sandpoint or Bear Lake, we want them to have access to the same information that is going to affect them no matter where they live in the state,” Idaho Debates Lead Producer and Moderator Melissa Davlin said.
The Idaho debates are just one tool candidates can use to get across their goals for office before Idahoans cast their votes.
“People also want to see the candidate. They want to hear them speak, they want to see how they address issues they would have to address in office and make their case of why they would be right for that public office,” Idaho Press Club President Betsy Russell said.
This year, the debates look different as multiple high-profile debates aren’t happening.
“We’ve had some interesting circumstances this year where we’ve had three high profile debates not happen because the candidates declined to debate in the first place or because they changed their minds when we wouldn’t change our rules to tell them which reporters were on our panel,” Davlin said.
If you missed yesterday's Attorney General Republican Primary debate, it's now available to stream for free on our website or the PBS app. https://t.co/Sobc1FrdIi— IdahoPTV (@IdahoPTV) April 20, 2022
Rep. Priscilla Giddings of Whitebird pulled out of the debate for lieutenant governor against the Speaker of the House Scott Bedke of Oakley over the non-disclosure of the panel of journalists. The Giddings campaign didn't want certain reporters on the panel, claiming they are biased.
“Reporters are those who cover the news in Idaho and in the case of the Idaho debates, they’re the ones who pose the questions to the candidates to get them to enunciate their views on the issues to the voters,” Russell said.
Most recently incumbent Gov. Brad Little declined the invitation to debate — a first in over 30 years.
“When an incumbent governor is seeking reelection, we have a very strong tradition in Idaho where they still make their case to the voters as to why they should be elected to another term as opposed to those who are challenging them and our governor, governor Little declined to debate saying that he thought his record was ‘non-debatable,’” Russell said. “We generally do consider incumbent's records in office to be debatable. That’s what voters do. They look at the incumbents, they look at the challenges, and they decided what they want to have for their government going forward whether they want to reflect the same person or go with somebody else and that’s part of the function of the debates.”
“I think it's a huge disservice. Even though it's a closed republican primary there are 475,000 republican affiliated voters in the state of Idaho. The majority of those voters are not going to be able to attend in-person campaign events. Our gubernatorial debates run anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes and that gives the candidates time to compare and contrast themselves to each other and tell voters why they deserve a vote,” Davlin said.
Debates are held for general and primary elections, but in a Republican-dominated state the primary debates carry more weight and often the winner of the primary will go on to take office in the November election. This makes it important these debates take place between candidates.
“I would say watch them. See if they help you make up your mind. Particularly if you are not familiar with the candidates. This is an excellent tool for voters,” Russell said.
Still to come are GOP Superintendent of Public Instruction debate on April 25 and the GOP Secretary of State debate on April 26.
“The more information we can get out to Idahoans right now, the better. We are nonpartisan. We do not support or oppose any candidate, our only interest, our only mission is getting information to voters," Davlin said.