Should Third Parties Be Included in Televised Debates?

Maryland Green Party Senate Candidate Margaret Flowers says most people are looking for alternatives to Trump and Clinton

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Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

In a year when mainstream candidates are more unpopular than ever, the question over balanced debates and media coverage looms large over the upcoming election. Nowhere is that more true than in Maryland where candidates from alternative parties have struggled to get mainstream coverage and be included in televised debates. Recently the Green Party candidate for senate was rebuffed from participating in what might be the sole opportunity for voters to watch a live debate for the open Maryland senate seat taking place on October 26th on WJZ TV which raises the question, is this system fair and does it give voters a chance to be informed.

We reached out to the League of Women Voters who had considered pulling sponsorship in protests of the exclusion of the third parties because the only poll conducted asked about the democratic and republican candidates only. But that became mute when a poll released Thursday showed Green Party candidate Margaret Flowers with just 2% of the vote. Less than the 15% threshold demanded by event organizers.

Well we’re now joined by Margaret flowers. She is the Green Party senate candidate for Maryland. Thanks so much for joining us Margaret.

MARGARET FLOWER: Thank you for having me Jaisal.

NOOR: So describe where you are right now for our viewers. You’re obviously not in a studio, you are outside.

FLOWERS: That’s right, we’re currently on a tour around the state of Maryland visiting towns outside of kind of the Baltimore area and beltway perimeter. So we’re just outside of Taneytown, Maryland right now.

NOOR: So the news that came out on Thursday is that Goucher University did a poll and it showed you getting just 2% of the vote across the state of Maryland. There is still is 18% of the population undecided according to this poll. So the sole televised debate, those organizers said because you don’t meet 15% you’re not going to be included. That’s sort of the same formula used by the national debates which is going to happen on Monday between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. What’s so bad about excluding people that don’t make the 15% threshold?

FLOWERS: We know that the national debate which is organized by a private corporation that calls itself the Commission on Presidential Debates but it’s owned by the Democratic and Republican parties, created that 15% threshold specifically to make it extremely difficult for alternative party candidates to get into those debates. If you remember in the beginning Bernie Sanders, at the beginning of his presidential run was polling at 2%. Jesse Ventura, when he was running for governor, was initially polling at 2% before the debate. What this does is creating this 15% threshold that they’re continuing to use here in Maryland at the senate level is that it really eliminates candidates who aren’t willing to be a part of the pay to play system.

Our campaign is a campaign that’s recognized by the state of Maryland. We’ve done all the things that we need to do on the ballot in November. If you look at the other criteria that these TV stations have showing evidence of a significant campaign with an office and staff, we meet that. Showing that we’re a statewide campaign, we meet that with volunteers around the state who are volunteering for our campaign.

So we meet all these other criteria. But with the commercial media not covering us and us not having the millions of dollars from corporations and PACs to buy media, the way that we can reach voters is through the televised debate. So this is a system that’s just designed to perpetuate the problem that we have right now that voters don’t get to be informed about what their choices are. I feel very confident that if more voters knew about our campaign our polling numbers would rise significantly.

NOOR: So Margaret, what do you say to critics that would say look Jill Stein has gotten lots of coverage this election cycle, especially recently but even in Maryland she’s getting only 2% of the vote which is what you’re polling. So they would say that even if you got more media coverage, you wouldn’t be doing better than Jill Stein because Maryland is so solidly Democratic. How would you respond to critics like that?

FLOWERS: Well she’s still definitely not a household name. We found that as we’ve been traveling around Maryland and talking to people, that they still don’t know who she is. But it’s really interesting because surely around the time of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this summer, her polling numbers were starting to rise. She went as high as 7% in the polls.

Then as soon as the National Convention was over and I think they were recognized that she was rising, there was a concerted effort to undermine her campaign. Criticizing her as being anti-vaccine and all these other falsehoods. Without that media megaphone to be able to correct those errors about who she actually is, I think that’s had a significant impact on her polling numbers. So you know those again who own the media, they’re the ones that own the narrative and this is what we’re trying to break.

It’s really disappointing to me that the debate that’s being held in Baltimore is at the University of Baltimore Center for Public Policy and also being sanctioned by the League of Women Voters and at a time when most people are looking for alternatives, this is when we should be having an expanded public debate. It’s surprising that they’re using one of the criterion to exclude me instead of actually saying wow we should have a free and open debate. Voters should know what their choices are. She meets all these other criteria. Let’s include her. What’s the harm? The harm is that Chris Van Hollen pretends to be a progressive but is not truly as progressive as our campaign is and they don’t want voters to hear that.

NOOR: So I talked to the League of Women Voters and they said they generally want as much participation as possible so when they host their forum in October they’re inviting every candidate. They invited you they said. But they said because it’s televised they want to basically make it so to fit the time constraint of the broadcaster. How do you respond to that?

FLOWERS: So they did, to their credit, invite me to one on the Eastern Shore. I appreciate that. But they also promised me during the primary that they would work to make sure that I was included–that the general election debate was an open debate. I think that we have debates all the time. I mean look at the presidential debates in this country that had maybe 5 or 6 candidates on them. Having more than 2 candidates is not a problem in a televised debate.

There’s plenty of time in an hour and a half to cover the positions of all the candidates. I think this is really more about protecting the status quo and not really allowing alternative voices to be heard. Especially at a time when people are looking for that and they know that it may have an impact in the elections of this state.

NOOR: Also there’s been an issue of the number of debates that Chris Van Hollen has agreed to. Can you talk about that because in the primary there was 9 debates but that number is much less for the general election?

FLOWERS: That’s correct. Republican candidate Cathy Szeliga was hoping for 6 debates and having debates all around the state. I’m very supported. The more debates that we have the better. I think voters need to know what their choices are. But let’s look at the reality of the political situation. This is a significantly democratic state.

Chris Van Hollen is a well-known figure. He’s been in congress now for a number of years. He was in the state legislature before that. As far as he’s figuring, the less that he has to actually go toe to toe with his opponents, the better off he is and that’s why I think he’s just looking for debates in Baltimore City because that’s not a part of the state that he’s well known in and so he’s not interested in actually holding events, forums, and debates outside of the Baltimore area because that can only hurt him, not help him.

NOOR: Alright Margaret Flowers thanks so much for joining us.

FLOWERS: Thank you Jasial.

NOOR: And thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.

End

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