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The Idaho Debates: A Tasty Thirty Year Recipe

October 03 2006 by Peter Morrill

During the fall of 1972, in a small, stuffy Boise television studio outfitted with mostly used equipment and a lot of volunteers, an Idaho tradition was born: The Idaho Debates. From those modest beginnings, the partnership between the League of Women Voters of Idaho and Idaho Public Television expanded to include the Idaho Press Club, whose collective efforts have influenced a generation of voters. The televised debates have also expanded to include a broadcast area that covers the entire state of Idaho.

The Idaho Debates are part of the political fabric that binds our far-flung rural state together. There are few things that connect citizens from Bonners Ferry, Moscow, Grangeville, McCall, Payette, Hagerman, Burley, Soda Springs and Salmon together quite like The Idaho Debates. They allow us time to collectively ponder some serious questions, including: Who will we choose to lead our state?

For more than thirty years, people have come to trust The Idaho Debates for its ability to level both the political playing field and our vast Idaho geography. Everyone in our state gets the same opportunity to hear the candidates at the same time, in the same way. No editing, no behind-the-scenes format modifications, and no glitz.

The recipe for this tradition is quite simple. Take at least two candidates who have demonstrated to the three sponsoring groups that they are conducting active campaigns; mix questions from seasoned print and electronic media reporters from around the state; add a dash of the candidates quizzing each other; and finally, season the meal with civility.

When ready, serve live and uncensored to viewers statewide during primetime. For dessert, make the debates available on-line and on-demand on idahoptv.org. It's that simple.

Like any good meal, ours deserves to look its best and be served to as many people as possible. That is why you will find The Idaho Debates produced in high-definition format to air on both our analog and digital channels, as well as being available on our website.

During the last few weeks, much has been written of three candidates declining the opportunity to participate in The Idaho Debates. Some have opted instead to debate their opponents on other venues, such as KTVB and the Fisher Group (KLEW & KBCI). I applaud these organizations for their efforts. From personal experience, organizing debates is not for the faint of heart!

But The Idaho Debates will go on. Idaho Public Television is now preparing programs highlighting the races for the Attorney General (October 18), Second Congressional District (October 22), First Congressional District (October 24), Superintendent of Public Instruction (October 25), and Governor (October 29).

In addition, IdahoPTV's weekly Dialogue show is producing three programs that examine the two ballot initiatives and a constitutional amendment: Eminent Domain (October 19), Sales Tax for Education (October 26) and the Marriage Amendment (November 2).

So, will the candidates who have declined our invitation reexamine their decision? Only the candidates know for sure. But the one sure thing is that The Idaho Debates and Dialogue will continue our commitment to examining the candidates and the issues facing our state.

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