On Politics: Lack of gubernatorial debates disappointing

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, left, and Republican Scott Wagner take part in a gubernatorial debate in Hershey on Oct. 1. - Matt Rourke | AP photo

Sick of politics yet?

There’s the never-ending stream of anger on social media, melodramatic commercials on TV, fights with relatives at picnics and holiday dinners, cable networks slapping “breaking news” banners on every story.

All the chatter is out there because we eagerly consume it, but also because we need some of it.

Engaged Americans want to hear from their leaders. We need to hear from them if we are going to make informed decisions come election time. That’s why recent political events in Pennsylvania have left some of us wanting.

On Oct. 1, as you may have read, Gov. Tom Wolf and challenger Scott Wagner met for what is expected to be their one and only debate of this year’s gubernatorial race.

The conversational-style forum was moderated — badly — by game show host Alex Trebek.

That was the first mistake, turning what should have been an important discussion about issues vital to Pennsylvanians over to an out-of-state celebrity.

Larger still, it’s deeply frustrating that voters won’t get to hear Wolf and Wagner meet again for something resembling a substantive debate.

That’s on Wolf. Apparently quite confident in his consistent polling (and fundraising) leads, he has reiterated his refusal to schedule another debate, the Associated Press pointed out this week, but Wolf also insists that he isn’t afraid to debate.

As the AP put it, Wolf is running a “ball-control” campaign to stay ahead of Wagner.

It’s message control, and it makes sense strategically, but the voters deserve better. They deserve more. There is no good reason why our governor can’t give his challenger and the voters the right to hear their views side-by-side.

That said, Wagner deserves some applause but also some criticism.

He has been energetically crossing the state — more than 600 campaign stops, according to the AP — though some stops have been private events where handlers have been very careful to screen and monitor attendees after some of the candidate’s remarks unflatteringly found their way onto social media courtesy of moles from the other side.

I attended a rally in suburban Harrisburg last year at which my car was searched, trunk and all, before being allowed into the parking lot of the construction company where it took place — outdoors, I should add.

I’ve never seen anything like that for a rally that didn’t involve the President of the United States. I was left wondering whether security was the concern or just intimidation of potential protesters.

And that is Wagner’s right — ditto for the venue — but neither side seems especially interested in hearing the legitimate criticisms of those who disagree, their opponents included.

In an era when many of us bemoan how Republicans and Democrats live in self-perpetuating echo chambers trying to drown out the other side’s message, we need more opportunities to hear from both camps in real time, without so many filters between them and us and them and each other.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, left, and Republican Scott Wagner take part in a gubernatorial debate in Hershey on Oct. 1.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/web1_AP18275074332206-2.jpgDemocratic Gov. Tom Wolf, left, and Republican Scott Wagner take part in a gubernatorial debate in Hershey on Oct. 1. Matt Rourke | AP photo