Guest op-ed: Pereira - "Are local debates useful?"

This guest op-ed was submitted by Lisa Pereira, a Blogland reader who lives in Goose Creek. A former journalist and paramedic who ran for State House Seat 102, she is currently active in Lowcountry GOP circles. You can air your views by emailing your op-ed to

Election season is winding down and candidates are wrapping up their campaigns and taking stock of what they have done and where they stand. This offers us a chance to reflect upon candidate debates and their role in the process of winning elections.

Debates have always been tricky things. One person entering the debate always has more to lose than the other person. Between the debates, meet and greets, fundraisers, and voter phone calls candidates have to make hard choices of the best use of their limited time. I question the value of debates both in terms of getting out the candidates message or in swaying undecided voters in local campaigns and have to wonder if perhaps the time to stop attending debates has come.

Too often debates either have too many candidates to thoughtfully delve into the issues (this year’s 14 candidate school board debates in Charleston County), have little turnout by truly undecided voters or they are carefully chosen venues put on by supposedlyneutral parties (The League of Women Voters) that turn out not to be. In some instances are little more than a vehicle for fringe candidates (yes, even within the Republican party) to call out other candidates like some sort of school yard bully fight.

Take a debate between GOP State Representative Peter McCoy and Carol Tempel for a House seat in Charleston County. McCoy had more to lose from attending that debate than his opponent did. Fortunately, Tempel all but skewered, roasted, and served herself up on a platter for him.

A recent debate between Charleston-area State Senate candidates Paul Thurmond and Paul Tinkler serves as another example. The debate was sponsored by the Old Charles Towne District Task Force and on the surface a nonpartisan affair. It wasn’t and was not attended by any potential swayable voters that I could see. Mostly it was a numbers game, put on for the benefit of the media, to see how many supporters each side could bring out to the debate.

Disclosure moment: I happen to really like Paul Thurmond. He is a genuinely honest and sincere guy. I don’t say that about a lot of politicians either Republican or Democrat. I can’t say the same thing about Tinkler. I find him to be a bit smarmy and also insulting of the average voter’s intelligence. No one for a minute believes that Tinkler was not in the loop, involved in, or at a minimum kept informed of the Thurmond lawsuit. To stand there and say that at multiple venues flies in the face of common sense. There is only one place where information is more leaky than in politics and that is in the fire service.

I did admire Tinkler’s ability to talk (mostly unchallenged by the moderator), for sometimes far more than his allotted time about anything other than the question. I would have been interested to hear more about how ethics reform creates jobs in South Carolina. I’m sure it would have been far more interesting than Thurmond’s boring on topic ideas for creating jobs by lowering taxes and maintaining a right to work state status for South Carolina. That didn’t stop Tinkler from insinuating that Thurmond was the only candidate to “magically survive a ballot challenge” – even if that wasn’t true. Just ask Sean Bennet, who was sued by Senator Mike Rose after Rose lost his re-election primary.

While both candidates shared interesting information – I was once again left this debate, as I have others like this, wondering if the candidates’ attendance at the debate persuaded a voter or were people just gathered around to watch a school yard fight to which both candidates felt obligated to attend lest they be called out for being a coward?

While debates were once a noble part of the American political tradition, it seems that – at least at the local level – they’re not providing information that can help inform, motivate and sway voters. In an era when we trust government less and feel like reforms are needed more than ever, these forums don’t seem to be helping very much. This begs the question: In an era of unprecedented targeting of small blocs of voters with specific messages, should a candidate attend these functions and is it a waste of time?

1 Response to "Guest op-ed: Pereira - "Are local debates useful?""

  1. Psychic Twins 19/11/12 18:44
    I would have to agree that debates at the local level are largely a waste of time because undecided voters aren't the ones who attend. Locally, the only people who seem to care about elections are those who are already politically engaged. So they show up at the debate to root for the candidate of their choice and snark about the others. Questionnaires are no better - candidates or their handlers know how to answer them. Really, the only way to know about a candidate is to do your own work, talk to the candidate and to others whose opinion you trust. And, any debate by the League of Women Voters is a supreme waste of time for candidates and attendees. There is nothing unbiased about the League so conservative candidates should just decline because nothing will be gained.

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