In our opinion: Orrin Hatch should agree to prime time, televised debate before primary election

Published: Thursday, May 17 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Dan Liljenquist speaks with the endorsement of senator candidates who lost after the first round of voting at the Utah Republican Party 2012 Nominating Convention at the South Towne Exposition Center in Sandy on Saturday, April 21, 2012. Liljenquist forced Senator Orrin Hatch into a primary election.

Laura Seitz, File, Deseret News

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Read more: Orrin Hatch continues to rebuff Dan Liljenquist's calls for TV debate

Two weeks ago we wrote that voters in Utah's Republican primary for U.S. Senate deserved "the best opportunity to compare the candidates side-by-side in open, issue-oriented debate." We shared our belief that "the important electoral values of civility, transparency, accountability and participation depend upon it."

To that end, we offered to work with KSL to provide the format for one "hour-long debate during prime listening and viewing times in early June."

The campaign of former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist immediately accepted our invitation for a prime time televised debate in a press release, asking, as they have previously — and as all challengers are wont — for additional debates.

The campaign of incumbent Sen. Orrin Hatch accepted a previously outstanding offer to debate Liljenquist on the morning KSL radio show of Doug Wright.

That radio debate is moving forward and we look forward to a candid discussion by the candidates of the issues that most affect Utahns.

But it was never our intention for a morning radio show to substitute for a prime time televised debate. And if there were any possible confusion on that point, representatives from KSL and the Deseret News have spent the past several weeks in direct discussion with the Hatch campaign to clarify that point.

The Hatch campaign has said that Hatch's pressing senatorial work only allows the senator time for one debate with Liljenquist in Utah. So, we have addressed that concern. We offered to make the Doug Wright format work for both radio and television, with taped-delay broadcast of the debate in prime time television. We even offered to go to Washington for the debate. The Hatch campaign refused both offers.

Hatch's campaign argues that Hatch already has debated Liljenquist twice and appeared with him on the same platform over a dozen times (all, we note, prior to the Republican convention) and that the issue of debates is one manufactured by a desperate Liljenquist.

This is not a "manufactured" concern. Voters have come to expect, and they deserve, an opportunity to see their candidates in open issue-oriented debate. Indeed, few skills are more important to the job of senator than the ability to argue and persuade — in committee, in the well of the Senate and in the court of public opinion.

We have previously observed that the U.S. Senate has become one of Washington's most dysfunctional institutions, a place where the cynical misuse of position, procedure and protocol has led to a lack of accountability and transparency. Based on our effort to provide the broadest and most accessible platform for civil debate in this important primary, it appears Hatch has picked up some bad habits from the Senate. At least in this instance, he has shown he is willing to cynically use his position to block the open and transparent debate his constituents deserve. We are sorely disappointed.

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