Democracy is a messy thing. That’s as it should be. Any political process that becomes too neat and tidy inherently becomes stagnant and undemocratic.
It’s always a surprise, then, when I hear people arguing that there are “too many” candidates running for a particular office. We should be saving our frustration and activism for those races where an incumbent is running unchallenged, or where there’s only one choice for a particular party, and so forth. Those are the cases where choice, and the tempering fires of real competition and debate, are lost.
It was a surprise and a disappointment, then, when the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association opted to cancel their planned Democratic gubernatorial candidate debate back in June. The group, which has a long history of hosting statewide debates, had only invited what it deemed the “top” four candidates to participate. Rightly, that inspired an enormous amount of backlash.
Instead of engaging with people’s wishes for a more comprehensive and fair debate–one that didn’t try to gatekeep — the group simply threw up their hands and walked away. That left the people of Wisconsin without any real chance at seeing and learning from a face-off between all of the potential challengers to Gov. Scott Walker.
Thankfully, independent media stepped in. On Wednesday night, WORT (89.9-FM) (Madison’s community radio station), The Progressive Magazine, and Isthmus jointly presented a Democratic candidate forum. Somehow, they found a way to invite all eight remaining candidates (seven participated; Mahlon Mitchell cited last-minute scheduling conflicts and did not attend). Not only that, but the format was interesting and well organized and offered a platform for tough and challenging questions. You can watch the whole thing on WisconsinEye.
There were certainly several issues on which all candidates agreed, but it was refreshing to get a better sense of the nuances and differences in approach offered by each. There were disagreements, friendly jokes, a few pointed barbs, but mostly a sense that all of them knew how important it was to band together to win in November and start Wisconsin back down a more progressive path to benefit all its citizens.
I’m not here to tell you who to vote for in the primary or general election. What I do hope is that you make and execute a plan to vote in every election. Educate yourself about the candidates and the issues as best you can. Perhaps even more importantly, reach out to the people around you to make sure they have a plan for voting, and accessible transportation if needed.
I want to live in a state where the vast majority of eligible voters turn out to cast a ballot, without unnecessary barriers. And I want to live in a state where we all have the opportunity to engage with and question the people who want to represent us at any level of government.
That means there should always be room for coverage and inclusion of every serious candidate in a race. This week’s forum showed that there are creative and constructive ways to do just that, and I thank everyone who helped put it all together. My only regret is that there were not and will not be more such forums held in different parts of the state. We need more organizations to step up to offer such opportunities. And we need to support the people and outlets who do the work to help us better understand our options.
The primary election is Tuesday in Wisconsin. You can cast an absentee ballot in advance at your local library if need be. Find your polling place, check your registration, and find out what and who will be on your ballot at myvote.wi.gov. Help make sure everyone you know has a way to get to the polls and the right identification needed to cast a ballot.
For the sake of our messy, imperfect, but utterly crucial democracy — go vote!
Emily Mills is a freelance writer who lives in Madison. Twitter: @millbot; Email: [email protected]
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