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Idaho Gov. Little again declines to participate in debate heading into election

Idaho Gov. Brad Little gives a speech during the Idaho Republican Party primary celebration on May 17, 2022. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Otto Kitsinger
Idaho Gov. Brad Little gives a speech during the Idaho Republican Party primary celebration on May 17, 2022. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

U.S. Reps Mike Simpson and Russ Fulcher also decline to debate

Idaho’s governor and the state’s two members of the U.S. House of Representatives have all decided not to debate their challengers in a long-standing series of televised political debates.

Incumbent Idaho Gov. Brad Little and U.S. Reps. Russ Fulcher and Mike Simpson, both R-Idaho, pulled out of the debates leading up to the Nov. 8 general election, producers of the Idaho Debates said.

As a result, the producers have canceled each of those debates, the only series of political debates televised statewide.

“Gov. Little is confident the people of Idaho know his strong track record of cutting taxes for families and businesses and directing historic investments to Idaho’s children, roads, and critical water projects,” Little’s campaign manager, Hayden Rogers, said in a written statement to the Sun. “Just two weeks ago, Gov. Little and the Idaho Legislature championed unprecedented tax relief and support for schools while cutting taxes. Under his watch, Idaho cut 90% of red tape and became the least regulated state in the nation. We are confident Idahoans know what Gov. Little stands for based on his clear record of delivering results for the people of our great state.”

Jaclyn Kettler, associate professor of political science at Boise State University, said there has been a recent trend across the country of candidates, particularly incumbents, declining to debate. Earlier this year, for instance, the Republican National Committee voted to withdraw from participation in the Commission on Presidential Debates.

Kettler said debates serve as one of several sources of information for voters looking to learn about a candidate’s policies and priorities. At a basic level, debates also raise and generate interest in upcoming elections, she said. But there is also a degree of independence in the debate. The debates play out live and candidates don’t have access to the questions in advance. Candidates often must defend their records and decisions, and they don’t have the ability to control their messages in debates like they do in campaign advertisements or rehearsed stump speeches.

“It’s an opportunity to see candidates engage with each other,” Kettler said in a telephone interview. “It’s helpful to see what these candidates are like when they are engaging with people who perhaps have different views than their own.”

Little is seeking a second four-year term as governor on Nov. 8. He is running against Democrat Stephen Heidt, independent Ammon Bundy, Constitution Party candidate Chantyrose Davison and Libertarian Paul Sand.

After Little declined to participate, Bundy still wanted to debate but Heidt declined to participate without the incumbent in the race, Idaho Debates host and producer Melissa Davlin said.

Little and Simpson were among several Republican candidates who also declined to participate in the Idaho Debates leading up to the May 17 primary elections, leading to the cancellation of those debates as well.

Davlin said the Idaho Debates have played an important role in educating voters for more than three decades.

“This is a great opportunity for candidates to reach Idahoans all across the state because Idaho Public Television reaches almost every single Idaho household over the air,” she said. “Most Idahoans don’t have the opportunity to go to all the campaign events and meet these candidates in person.”

For the first time this year, Idaho Debates producers are offering Spanish-language captioning on debates that are rebroadcast in order to reach a wider audience. In future years, Idaho Debates producers would like to see our partnerships and sponsorships to allow them to offer Spanish language translation so the debates can be rebroadcast on Spanish radio, Davlin said.

Idaho Democratic candidates also refuse to debate, fail to respond to debate organizers

Simpson is running against Democrat Wendy Norman in the Second Congressional District race on Nov. 8.

Norman issued a written statement criticizing Simpson for declining to debate.

“These professional politicians think their party labels and their huge war chests will carry them through, so they feel free to do whatever furthers their careers,” Norman wrote. “They are afraid to face the voter and try to defend the things they have done that are against Idaho’s interests.”

Fulcher is running against Democrat Kaylee Peterson and Libertarian Darian Drake in the First Congressional District race.

“(Fulcher) consistently puts politics over country,” Peterson said in a written statement. “Refusing to debate is a slap in the face to voters.”

The Idaho Debates have been broadcast statewide on Idaho Public Television for more than 30 years. The Idaho Debates are a partnership between the Idaho Press Club, Idaho Public Television, the League of Women Voters of Idaho and Idaho’s public universities.

The three incumbent Republican elected officials were among a group of seven Idaho candidates running for office on Nov. 8 who declined to participate in the Idaho Debates.

The other candidates who will not participate in the debate are:

  • Democratic candidate for state treasurer Deborah Silver.
  • Democratic candidate for secretary of state Shawn Keenan, who did not respond to the Idaho Debates committee.
  • Democratic candidate for controller Dianna David, who did not respond to the Idaho Debates committee.
  • Constitution Party candidate for controller Miste Gardner, who did not respond to the Idaho Debates committee.

The debates for governor, both House seats, treasurer, controller and secretary of state were all canceled because there were not enough qualifying candidates willing to debate in any of those races, Davlin said.

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.