CABL has partnered with Louisiana Public Broadcasting for more than 20 years to produce televised debates in major statewide races. It has always been our intent to have inclusive forums that give candidates an opportunity to express their views to voters and explain where they stand on important issues.
As part of that we have always developed criteria to ensure that serious candidates with some degree of public support are able to participate and have adequate time to express their views. That by its nature means that some candidates who have not demonstrated a meaningful degree of public support are not invited to participate. Setting criteria is a normal and necessary part of conducting televised debates, especially with a large field of candidates.
But this year, for the first time ever, three candidates filed a lawsuit against CABL and LPB seeking to halt the debate or have the court include them in the debate. On Thursday, after two days of testimony, state district Judge Tim Kelley ruled in favor of CABL and LPB and our debate will go on as scheduled.
It will be broadcast Tuesday, October 18 from 7:00-8:30 p.m. and will originate from the campus of Louisiana Tech University in Ruston. Charles Boustany, Foster Campbell, Caroline Fayard, John Fleming, and John Kennedy met the criteria and were invited to participate.
More than anything, the ruling was a win for voters. This year 24 people have qualified to run for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Sen. David Vitter. That is an unprecedented number and clearly it would be impossible to have a meaningful debate if all were allowed to participate. And it would be unfair to citizens trying to learn more about the candidates to have the debate cancelled.
The lawsuit alleged that CABL’s criteria for inclusion of the candidates was unfair and harmful to those who were not invited to participate. The judge disagreed. In his ruling he stated that CABL’s criteria were objective, reasonable, and viewpoint-neutral. That has always been our goal and he dismissed the lawsuit.
To be perfectly clear, CABL has always utilized criteria for participation in one of our debates. That criteria is based on two principles: 1) seriousness of purpose of the candidates, and 2) demonstration of significant public support. We believe those principles and our criteria are fair to candidates and to the public that wants to see those running for office in an unfiltered setting.
Too much of today’s campaigns are driven by soundbites and 30-second TV spots. Debates are an opportunity for voters to see how candidates answer substantive questions and sometimes talk about things they might want to avoid. CABL sees televised forums as a service to voters and one more tool to help them become more informed about the issues and who is running for office.
We appreciate the court’s ruling and we pledge to continue to work with our partners at LPB to further the public discourse on issues that are important to citizens.