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Right to be heard?

8/26/2014

One of the traditions of the Kansas State Fair, at least during election years, has been to provide the first gubernatorial debate of the campaign season.

One of the traditions of the Kansas State Fair, at least during election years, has been to provide the first gubernatorial debate of the campaign season.

2014 will be no different. But in the run-up to the fair's kick-off, interest exists not only about who will participate -- but who will not.

Republican incumbent Gov. Sam Brownback has, of course, accepted his invitation to speak. So has Democratic challenger House Minority Leader Paul Davis. A third candidate, Libertarian Keen Umbehr, would like to take part but has yet to receive an invite.

Whether he should really isn't up for debate. Kansas Radio Networks/WIBW Radio, the host of the debate, set the criteria for inclusion early on. Candidates must have at least a 5-percent showing in an independent pre-election poll, must have at least $50,000 in non-personal campaign funds, and must have a staffed campaign office other than their home. It's the host's way of not wasting the public's time on fringe candidates.

That is not to say such candidates are a waste of time. It simply suggests with limited time available, voters are better served by hearing from those who have even a ghost of a chance of winning. That's practical, efficient and a time-honored approach.

It is also a way that helps reinforce and perpetuate the dominant two-party system America has adopted, which is a debate for another time. The rules were established long before even the primary election.

Umbehr would like that debate now, however. He has met two of the criteria but has not reached the $50,000 qualification. Umbehr told the Hutchinson News "he could ask people to donate sums so he could qualify for the debate -- and then give the money back. But he doesn't intend to do that."

The "Colyer hokey-pokey" reference was to Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer giving Brownback's campaign $500,000 to help inflate his reporting numbers, and then getting the money back two days later.

While the governor didn't need that amount to qualify for the state fair debate, Umbehr obviously took note of the tactic. Had he truly wanted to participate in the Sept. 6 forum, he had ample opportunity to employ the trick. But he did not.

So Umbehr might be given credit for his morals, but that won't cover the price of admission to the Hutchinson event. He appealed to WIBW, which understandably stuck to its own principles.

Kansas Radio did tell The Hays Daily News if Brownback and Davis requested Umbehr's presence, it "would consider it." As of this writing, it was unknown whether Umbehr had approached the other camps directly.

It strikes us that the Libertarian Party candidate has no reason to complain. There were at least two avenues to be included in the debate Umbehr chose not to pursue. At the very least, he shouldn't blame WIBW for the snub. Umbehr's inability to attract donations reveals what voters feel about his campaign.

(Editor's note: In the interest of full disclosure, this newspaper will be participating in the debate. Managing Editor Nick Schwien will serve on the media panel asking questions.)

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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