The Forum Conundrum

Tonight (Wednesday), VTDigger is hosting a very important early event in Vermont’s most competitive primary race of 2022 — the Democratic contest for U.S. Congress. It’s the first high-profile candidate forum in the race. There are five declared candidates; four of them will be included.

Above is the other guy: Dr. Louis Meyers, hospital physician at Rutland Regional Medical Center. Why won’t he be there? Well, because VTDigger, for reasons of its own, refused to invite him.

I’m not here to bash Digger; I think they made a considered decision. But on balance, I think it’s a mistake to exclude Meyers.

Meyers is a moderate Democrat. He’s been a practicing physician for three decades, and offers first-hand experience with the health care system. No reason to not take him seriously so far.

The other side of the coin: Meyers has twice run for state Senate in Chittenden County and finished dead last in both Democratic primaries.

If pressed, Digger would likely point to his electoral record and claim that he has no proven appeal. Certainly not compared to the three heavyweights in the race: Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint, and Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale.

But then there’s the fourth candidate, Sianay Chase Clifford. She has Congressional experience as an aide to U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachiusetts, but she’s never run for or held elective office. And while she spent her youth in Vermont, she moved away to go to college and only returned to Vermont within the past two years. She has no more proven appeal than Meyers. So why will she be there?

Digger knows. I don’t.

Generally, I don’t like it when marginal candidates clog up a debate stage, taking time away from the real contenders. Does it really serve anyone to include the likes of Cris Ericson or Emily Peyton or, in his day, the late Peter Diamondstone? No, it doesn’t. You have no claim to the spotlight simply because you gathered a few dozen signatures.

I’d have no trouble excluding Ericson or Peyton from a debate; they’re perpetual candidates who are away with the fairies politically. Meyers has legitimate views and policy ideas. Also, while the former have lost over and over again, Norman Thomas style, Meyers has “only” lost twice.

Another factor: How many debates will there be? No way to know. Media organizations and other groups sponsor them; if candidates respond, there’s a debate. If there are, say, five debates to come and Meyers will be included in some of the others, then Digger has a better case. But that’s unknowable right now, and there’s no coordination among debate sponsors. Every one has its own criteria. (Meyers’ supporters would argue that the first debate is the most important one. Maybe, But it’s still very early and most people aren’t paying attention yet. The biggest impact of his exclusion is that it gives other debate sponsors an easy out for making the same decision.

The deciding factor, for me, is the Meyers/Chase Clifford comparison. You’ve got to slice the bologna pretty damn thin to rationalize inviting one and not the other. So thin that I wonder if Digger could actually articulate a case for differentiating between the two.

Finally, Digger is a nonprofit organization that aims to be an all-encompassing news source. If a commercial outlet decided to only invite some of the candidates, well, the Fairness Doctrine was killed off decades ago. Digger is, in its own words, “dedicated to public-service journalism” with the goal of giving “readers the information they need to engage in important conversations about Vermont.”

That puts Digger on a different plane than the three commercial TV stations, for-profit newspapers or other outlets. Digger has a mission. In excluding Louis Meyers, are they failing in that mission? It’s arguable, but I say yes.

Footnote. One of Meyers’ supporters contacted the four invited candidates, asking them to intervene on Meyers’ behalf. The response, as far as I can tell: Crickets. That’s a bad look on their part.

2 thoughts on “The Forum Conundrum

  1. Asah Whalen

    Yeah, seems like digger has some kind of unknown motive to keep him out. A good question stands about Ram-Hinsdale’s capability to be viable, she has a worse electoral record then everyone on the stage. It seems like the “women in Vermont politics” theme is pretty hot right now and I wonder if Digger wants to capitalize on a debate stage where it is only female candidates to appeal to its decidedly center left audience.

    Reply
  2. montpelier28

    I feel in the “old days” debates were fair. Now on national or state level I do not think that’s the case any longer. I can remember VT debates on VPT that had all of them, even the “fringe” people and they were the best debates imo.

    Reply

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