With less than a month left before the election, many political candidates are taking the stage with their opponent as part of candidate forums and debates where they share their perspective on the issues and answer questions.
Many of the incumbents representing west-central Illinois have agreed to debate per their opponent’s request including those candidates in Illinois’ 17th and 18th Congressional races and in Illinois’ U.S. Senate race.
But one politician is refusing. Republican State Representative Norine Hammond of Macomb said she will not participate in any debates.
Hammond was appointed to office in December 2010 following the death of former Representative Rich Myers. This is the first time Hammond has had a challenger.
Democrat John Curtis of Macomb is a small-scale farmer and teacher at Western Illinois University. He told Tri States Public Radio’s Rich Egger prior to Western’s Homecoming Parade that he wants to debate the issues with his opponent.
“I feel like the public has a right to know and I’m afraid the truth is that she’s not necessarily afraid of me, she’s afraid to having to answer questions of her own people,” Curtis said. “That’s a problem when your Representative will not appear publicly, you have a problem.”
Curtis and Hammond had been scheduled to participate in a candidate forum organized by the State University Annuitants Association. Organizers of SUAA said Hammond picked the day of the event and had agreed to have Curtis present.
Curtis attended the forum and took questions from the audience. But, Hammond canceled the day before the debate.
“They were insisting it was not going to be a debate, but in fact the entire agenda was a debate agenda,” Hammond said.
Rep. Hammond spoke with Tri States Public Radio following the Macomb Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual legislative luncheon event where Hammond said she was not interested in debating.
Q. "Why Not?"
Hammond: "I’m just not."
Q. "No particular reason?"
Q. "We are seeing other lawmakers in this region that are debating their opponents."
Hammond: "Sure. I’m not interested."
Q. "In a democracy you don’t think that’s important to have debates?"
Hammond: "No, I think when you look at the debates that are going on at the national level right now. Is that healthy? Is that healthy for our nation? I don’t think any of those are healthy."
Hammond has also turned down an invitation to share the stage with Curtis at the McDonough County League of Women Voter’s candidate forum which is scheduled for Tuesday, October 18th at 7 PM in the library of Macomb Junior-Senior High School.
Tri States Public Radio also asked if Rep. Hammond would be willing to do an interview with Curtis, but she declined citing a busy campaign and legislative calendar.
We turned to Dr. Keith Boeckelman to provide some context. He is the chair of the Political Science Department at Western Illinois University. Boeckelman, said research shows voters who watch debates better understand candidate’s stances on the issues and are better informed.
As for Hammond’s comment about the presidential debates not being healthy for the country, Boeckelman said while they have been ugly they also have value.
But, he said generally incumbents want to debate as little as possible and challengers want to debate as much as possible.
“The idea behind that is basically if you put the incumbent and the challenger on the same stage, answering the same questions, the ideas in voters mind is that they are equal and usually that is disadvantageous to the incumbent who wants to be seen as already more experienced and above the challenger,” Boeckelman said. “So I think from that perspective you can kind of see that playing out in this current controversy.”
Boeckelman said there are some expectations that as elected officials, incumbents will answer the public’s questions. But he said they also have more to lose politically by debating which is why sometimes they don’t want to do it as much.
“I think there is a perception that if the incumbent has a bad performance that can hurt them more than a good performance can help them,” Boeckelman said.
Boeckelman said often the narratives surrounding the debate regarding who won and who lost can have a bigger impact on the race than what actually happened on the debate stage.
(You can hear more of the interview with Dr. Keith Boeckelman by clicking on the audio link at the top of this story.) Boeckelman will be joining Tri States Public Radio for analysis on election night.