By Max Jones
TERRE HAUTE — Twice in September and once in October, Indiana voters will have an opportunity to participate in and witness, in person or via electronic media, debates among the state’s three candidates for governor.
Gubernatorial debates are not new here, but this year’s debates will be different because of unprecedented efforts by the newly formed Indiana Debate Commission.
Incorporated in the fall of 2007, the Indiana Debate Commission is a nonpartisan group of affiliate organizations dedicated to promoting debates at the state level. The IDC’s board of directors has been setting groundwork for this year’s debates since February 2007, and has spent the past five months working with candidates and potential debate officials to select locations and a schedule that will serve the largest possible number of Hoosier voters.
As the IDC has gone about its work, the support, interest and enthusiasm shown around the state for hosting the debates have been remarkable. More than a dozen sites submitted applications to become debate venues. Among them were public universities, a private college, a parochial school and a commercial enterprise. All were visited by teams of board members and volunteers. The goal is to conduct a debate in each of three regions (north, central and south); each produced excellent potential sites.
Reviewing and assessing potential venues during site visits was a painstaking process that was enhanced by the professionalism demonstrated by our applicant hosts. Their commitment to offering the best facilities and services available reinforced our belief that this cause has great merit and will produce valued results.
After several weeks of consideration and analysis, the IDC on Aug. 8 announced its debate lineup. All three candidates — Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, Democratic nominee Jill Long Thompson, and Libertarian Andrew Horning — have accepted our proposed schedule.
The first debate will be Tuesday, Sept. 16, at the Star Theatre in Merrillville. The second will be the following Tuesday, Sept. 23, at the Jasper Arts Center in Jasper. The third will be Tuesday, Oct. 14, at IU Auditorium on the campus of Indiana University-Bloomington.
With dates and sites selected, an IDC subcommittee is now focused on debate formats. While different formats may ultimately be selected for each site, the goal is the same — to create an opportunity for voters to observe the candidates deal with a variety of issues and interact with questioners, moderators and each other.
Throughout this process, the Debate Commission has stayed true to its mission of “putting voters first.” In addition to scheduling debates in geographically diverse locations around the state and making each event open to the public, the IDC has put together a plan to allow as many people as possible to view the debates on television or listen on radio. In conjunction with Indiana public television stations, a video feed will be made available free of charge for broadcast on any local or public station.
The IDC also invites citizens to participate by submitting questions, topics or issues they would like the candidates to discuss during the debates. An electronic submission form is available at the IDC Web site, www.indianadebatecommission.com. If your question is selected, you may be invited to attend a debate and watch from a VIP seat.
Political debate has long been a tradition in Indiana. Yet creation of the Indiana Debate Commission, the first known statewide organization of its kind in America, is destined to raise the standard of discourse by staging debates in a consistent manner while ensuring, on behalf of voters, that the presentations are fair and unbiased for all involved.
The coalition of affiliate members that made the commission possible will be pleased to reach its first goal with the series of gubernatorial debates this fall. But Indiana’s voters will have achieved the greatest gain.
Max Jones is editor of the Tribune-Star and a member of the Indiana Debate Commission. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.