With the election season in full swing, the Utah Debate Commission is scheduled to host several candidate debates--including some that will be carried live by KPCW.
The executive director of the Debate Commission, Nena Slighting, said the group was formed about five years ago, motivated in part by Utah's poor turnout of voters.
"In about 2013 a group of universities and media partners came together and determined to enhance voter turnout and to engage Utah voters in the process that we needed to have a system of regular debates in the state of Utah. This also put pressure on incumbents to debate when they had shied away from debating. So, the debate commissioned was organized and we’ve been in existence—our first debate cycle was in 2014—and this will be our third debate cycle.”
The Commission deals with state-wide and federal races and does not take a political position.
It has a board made up of representatives from the two political parties, all eight universities in Utah, major broadcast media and the two newspapers, the community and business.
The candidate face-offs are held from 6:00 to 7:00 pm. The media outlets agree to broadcast the debates simultaneously, usually putting aside their commercial considerations.
"They have agreed to air it, not all of them are able because you have the World Series sometimes, in October. Sometimes they have to preempt but for the most part most all of them air it live. We have great buy-in from our media partners.”
A continuing question for the Commission is whether to include independent-party candidates. Slighting said they would like to, but they only have an hour to cover a lot of issues, and they want the public to hear all the viable candidates.
"This was a topic that was probably debated among board members more than anything else, but we had to establish a threshold. One where we could limit it to candidates who stood a reasonable chance of having success in November and yet still allow enough time for those who wanted to gather as much public support. We came up with a threshold of 10% that’s lower than the commission on presidential debate theirs is at 15%. Then we also allowed for the margin of error in the polls so for instance this year our threshold is at 10% the margin of error, 4% for the poll that we conducted. So, any candidate who polled at 6% was able to participate. This year we did have a third-party candidate Eric Eliason from the 1st Congressional District qualified with 6.6%.”
The Commission's line-up of debates (to be broadcast on KPCW) include a match-up on Tuesday October 9th, at Southern Utah University in Cedar City between the candidates for U.S. Senate--Democrat Jenny Wilson and Republican Mitt Romney.
Another debate, for Utah's First Congressional District, is set for Wednesday, October 17th, at Utah State University, with incumbent Republican Rob Bishop, Democrat Lee Castillo and United Utah Eric Eliason. Tuesday, October 23rd, will feature the Third Congressional District race with incumbent John Curtis and Democrat James Singer.
Slighting said you can submit questions before the debate to utahdebatecommission.org or go on social media to submit questions in real time.