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Gov. Little, Rep. Giddings, Congressman Simpson pull out of televised Idaho Debates

The Idaho State Capitol on March 21, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Otto Kitsinger
The Idaho State Capitol on March 21, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Debates on Idaho Public Television for AG, schools chief, secretary of state still scheduled

Idaho Gov. Brad Little, state Rep. Priscilla Giddings and Congressman Mike Simpson will not participate in the statewide televised Idaho Debates ahead of this year’s primary elections.

Giddings backing out resulted in the cancellation of Monday’s lieutenant governor’s debate.

Little’s refusal to debate leaves questions about whether a gubernatorial debate will go forward before the May 17 primary election.

Simpson’s campaign told the Idaho Press that “Republican voters don’t need to hear anything more from Bryan Smith,” Simpson’s second-time opponent for Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District.

Little’s campaign issued a statement to the Idaho Capital Sun on Friday afternoon announcing Little would not participate.

“Idaho has the strongest economy in the nation,” campaign manager Hayden Rogers said in a written statement. “Gov. Little has a proven track record of cutting red tape, responsibly managing the budget and the economy and providing Idaho families and businesses with historic tax relief and record investments in schools, roads, water and other areas. Those historic accomplishments and facts are non-debatable.”

Rogers’ statement called Little “hands down the most accessible governor in Idaho history.”

However, Little’s campaign team has not responded to an interview request to discuss campaign priorities the Sun sent on Tuesday.

The Idaho Debates, which have been around for more than 30 years, are a partnership between the state’s public universities, the League of Women Voters of Idaho, Idaho Public Television and the Idaho Press Club, which provides the reporters on the panel that help ask the candidates questions.

Little is the first sitting governor seeking re-election to refuse to participate in the Idaho Debates in more than three decades, Idaho Press Club President Betsy Russell said.

Idaho GOP gubernatorial debate in question

The remaining primary election debates begin Tuesday, but Idaho Debates organizers have not confirmed a debate for the Republican governor’s race. It is unclear if the gubernatorial debate will go forward Russell said Friday afternoon. Debate organizers were conferring with the other candidates.

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin and fellow candidate Ed Humphreys both qualified for the gubernatorial debate.

During a March 17 news conference, McGeachin stood on the Idaho Statehouse steps and said participating in debates “is part of the job.”

During an interview this week, Humphreys said participating in debates and answering questions is important.

“If you are an incumbent who is truly acting in Idahoans best interest, you should be proud to answer questions and stand by both your administration and your accomplishments,” Humphreys told the Sun. “You have no honor if you are not willing to participate in debates and participate in the electoral process.”

There are no Democratic primary Idaho Debates this season, Idaho Debates moderator and lead producer Melissa Davlin said. There are no contested Democratic primary races for statewide constitutional offices (such as governor, attorney general, superintendent of public instruction and the like) this year. There is a contested Democratic primary race for one of Idaho’s U.S. Senate seats, but more than one candidate did not submit materials attempting to qualify for the debate, Davlin said.

There is not a provision in the Idaho Debates that allows write-in candidates such as Democratic gubernatorial write-in candidate Shelby Rongstand to participate in the debates, Davlin told the Sun.

Idaho GOP lieutenant governor debate canceled

Monday’s televised statewide Republican lieutenant governor’s debate was canceled after Giddings and her campaign demanded to approve the list of reporters who would serve on the panel asking questions. When that didn’t happen due to debate rules, Giddings then backed out of the debate.

The debate would have begun the 2022 primary election season of the Idaho Debates and was to be broadcast live on Idaho Public Television. Instead, the Idaho Debates are now scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. Tuesday with the Republican debate for attorney general between incumbent Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, former U.S. Rep. Raúl Labrador and attorney Arthur “Art” Macomber.

Giddings and her campaign team told debate organizers that they had a problem with reporters in Idaho and requested a list of the reporters who would have served on the panel, Davlin told the Sun on Friday.

Both candidates running in the Republican lieutenant governor’s primary election — Giddings and Speaker of the House Scott Bedke — qualified for the debate by meeting standards that include providing proof of an active campaign, Davlin said. But organizers canceled it when Giddings backed out because of equal time requirements for the debate, which would have been broadcast publicly over the air and streamed live on YouTube.

According to a press release from Idaho Debates organizers, Giddings’ campaign spokesman told Idaho Public Television in an email April 11 that, “We are preparing for the debate and will have the guest list for you this week.” However, the campaign spokesman added, “We require that panelists be approved beforehand.”

The Idaho Debates organizers have never allowed a candidate to approve reporters on the panel or revealed the reporters to candidates in advance, Davlin said.

“This is so campaigns can’t pick and choose who asks questions of them,” Davlin said. “We tried to work with the Giddings campaign within the parameters of our rules.”

On Friday, Giddings’ campaign spokesman Zach Lautenschlager wrote to Davlin that, “The decision to withhold the names of the panelists on the false pretense that this will suddenly make them fair and respectful leaves us with very little choice … We are forced to refuse the invitation.”

Congressman Mike Simpson won’t debate opponent Bryan Smith

The cancellation of some Idaho Debates began Monday when longtime Congressman Mike Simpson’s campaign said he won’t debate opponent Byran Smith, according to the Idaho Press. The two faced off in the 2014 primary election for Simpson’s 2nd Congressional District seat, where Simpson easily won with about 62% of the vote.

The two candidates did participate in the Idaho Debates in May 2014.

“Republican voters don’t need to see anything more from Bryan Smith,” the Simpson campaign said in a statement to Russell, who is a reporter with the Idaho Press and part of the organizing team for the debates.

But Smith, in an interview with Russell, said he was willing to debate and would welcome having a discussion without “ads or handlers.”

Russell’s reporting noted that both candidates have appeared at GOP functions and Lincoln Day events throughout the state this spring.

The schedule of confirmed Idaho Debates is:

  • Tuesday: Republican attorney general debate, featuring Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, former U.S. Congressman Raúl Labrador and attorney Arthur “Art” Macomber.
  • April 25: Republican superintendent of public instruction debate featuring Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra, former State Board of Education president Debbie Critchfield and former state Sen. Branden Durst.
  • April 26: Republican secretary of state debate featuring state Rep. Dorothy Moon, state Sen. Mary Souza and Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane. 

All debates are broadcast at 8 p.m. local time and are streamed live at 8 p.m. mountain time on Idaho Public Television’s YouTube channel. The debates are broadcast live on Idaho Public Television for viewers who live in the Mountain Time Zone, but delayed until 8 p.m. Pacific time for viewers in North Idaho. More information about the Idaho Debatesis available online.

Idaho Capital Sun editor-in-chief Christina Lords contributed to this report. Disclosure: Idaho Capital Sun reporter Clark Corbin was a member of the reporter panel that would have worked on the lieutenant governor’s debate.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.