Challenger criticizes Gabbard for ducking debate
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is refusing to debate a Democratic primary challenger again this election season, spurring another round of criticism that she’s stifling the democratic election process and not giving voters a chance to hear from her opponents.
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U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is refusing to debate a Democratic primary challenger again this election season, spurring another round of criticism that she’s stifling the democratic election process and not giving voters a chance to hear from her opponents. The popular congresswoman has yet to participate in a debate against a primary challenger since being elected to Congress six years ago.
“Blocking debates from happening through non-participation is the opposite of democracy,” said Sherry Campagna, her main challenger this year in the
Aug. 11 Democratic primary, in a news release.
Campagna said with the recent flooding on Kauai, volcanic eruption on the Big Island, as well as ongoing problems with homelessness and access to health care, open political debate is all the more needed. The House seat represents the neighbor islands and rural Oahu.
During the 2016 primary Gabbard refused multiple debate requests from her then Democratic challenger Shay Chan Hodges, a writer on Maui. While Hodges had personally asked Gabbard to debate her on all the islands, Gabbard said publicly that she had never received a request to participate in a debate from the media or any community group.
However, this primary season Gabbard has received numerous invitations from organizations including the League of Women Voters and Hawaii News Now.
Hawaii News Now has been trying for more than a month to schedule a debate with 2nd Congressional
District candidates, but
Gabbard has declined to participate, according to the outlet’s news director, Scott Humber. Humber said he would continue to encourage Gabbard to take up the invitation, noting in an email that “it is the right thing to do for the voters.”
Erika Tsuji, a spokeswoman for Gabbard, said the congresswoman’s priorities lay elsewhere.
Gabbard, who arrived back in Hawaii on Friday, “is spending the limited precious time she’s able to be home with her constituents, discussing issues of importance with them, including difficulties they are having due to the recent natural disasters on Kauai, Oahu, and Hawaiii island, especially the victims of the Puna lava flow, as well as fulfilling her National Guard service requirements,” Tsuji said by email.
“Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard extensively discusses her positions on the important issues that face our state and country on her website and Facebook, and she welcomes all to join her there,” Tsuji added.
It’s not unusual for an incumbent to decline debate requests, as the exposure better serves rivals seeking greater visibility among
voters. Both Hodges and Campagna are political newcomers. But Gabbard’s past recrimination of former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz for limiting the number of debates during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary campaign has made the congresswoman vulnerable to criticism on the issue.
The limited number of presidential debates was widely seen as benefiting Hillary Clinton over her
lesser-known political rivals, including Bernie Sanders.
At the time, Gabbard told CNN that she had been calling for more primary presidential debates “to give the American people the opportunity to hear from these presidential candidates, to listen to what they’ve got to say, to hold them accountable for their views and their positions.” Gabbard said it was an issue of “democracy, of freedom of speech and defending that which so many have sacrificed and given their lives for.”
Campagna said that the tactic of incumbents dodging debates was “pretty classic,” but that it was “galling that Tulsi called others out for this very tactic.”