Mayoral candidate forums are a waste of time

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Austin mayoral candidates debate issues concerning the city Wednesday evening in a forum at the Belo Center for New Media.
Austin mayoral candidates debate issues concerning the city Wednesday evening in a forum at the Belo Center for New Media.

In Texas, mayoral elections differ from most in that voters do not elect a Democrat or a Republican, although most candidates can clearly be associated with a particular political ideology. This structure of municipal government allows for a variety of viewpoints and personalities to be on the ballot so voters are not confined to the traditional political binary. But the lack of systemic vetting in mayoral elections leads to cacophonous debates that do not serve to benefit the voters, and media should not contribute to the degradation of this political process.

On Wednesday, I attended a mayoral forum during which candidates repeated the same things they’ve been saying for quite some time because they were asked the same questions they are asked all the time. Austin residents tend to have the same complaints. There’s too much traffic, growth is costing residents a pretty penny and the city is overwhelmingly white. Of course, the candidates have played to public outcry, and their campaigns have been, for the most part, set to address these issues. So I knew going to the forum Wednesday that it would be a complete waste of my time. What is even more annoying, though, is that concerning the mayoral election, Austin media has not taken advantage of a powerful tool: agenda-setting.

Firstly, the candidates are never asked tough questions. Do you support Proposition 1? What would you to stop the surge in property taxes? These questions essentially are usually answered with canned speeches that finish with a campaign slogan. Also, media entities hosting these candidate forums should weed out good candidates from bad candidates. Sure, an objective news outlet is not going to host a debate between only Sheryl Cole and Mike Martinez. But seriously, I had never even heard of David Orshalick, and I have been following the election! It’s a pretty safe bet to say that an unknown is not going to win, and I am guessing that’s why Brandon Parmer, the Green Party candidate for governor, does not debate Greg Abbott or Wendy Davis.

Without a primary election, voters will have a number of candidates before them in November. But the election is a month away, and media outlets in Austin have not allowed for distinction between the candidates. No, I am not advocating for outright support of any one candidate. Novel questions to candidates and voter polling, however, would be extremely helpful in discerning between the candidates.

 

Davis is an associate editor.