By Jamey Dunn
With only a few weeks before the general election, Rich Whitney, the Green Party candidate for governor, has launched a campaign to be included in public debates.
Whitney is pushing to be invited to three planned gubernatorial debates, which now only include Republican candidate Sen. Bill Brady and Democrat Gov. Pat Quinn.
The debates, scheduled for later this month, are sponsored by Elmhurst College, the League of Women Voters of Illinois and the City Club of Chicago.
Whitney said all candidates should be invited to debate, but he thinks he has the strongest appeal for inclusion because he won more than 10 percent of the vote in the 2006 governor’s race. He added that he is the only candidate who has detailed a specific plan to address the state's current budget crisis.
Whitney said that candidates who collect enough signatures to get on the ballot should not then face a polling requirement to be included in debates. “We shouldn’t be relying on the polling numbers. What is the purpose of a civic organization? It’s to allow the citizens to choose,” Whitney said.” It’s to inform the voting public so that they have an opportunity to decide who the best candidate is. Then you will see the polling numbers change.”
Jan Czarnik, executive director of the League of Women Voters, said the purpose of a debate held shortly before the election is to give voters a chance to find out more about the candidates who are likely to bring in votes. “It’s not our job to build support for candidates that the public doesn’t seem to be very interested in.”
According to the organization’s written policy, the league requires that candidates get at least 10 percent support in “one or more statewide non partisan public poll not more than 30 days prior to the election and at least five days prior to the debate.”
Czarnik said representatives of Whitney’s campaign and the Green Party were involved in debate planning sessions and agreed to those terms last July.
Whitney said his representatives may have “acknowledged” the league's terms but never agreed to them. He said there could have been a "miscommunication" between his staff and the league, but his view on debate participation has not changed. “In any event, I think it’s still wrong.”
Whitney has created an advertisement advocating his inclusion in the debates. He said he is raising money to buy television airtime for the advertisement. He is encouraging supporters to contact the debate sponsors and said he will be organizing protests outside any “illegitimate” debates that do not include him.
Whitney plans to participate in a debate with Brady and Quinn on the Southern Illinois University Carbondale campus tomorrow night.