Political debates matter. Take note, Chris Collins.
Focused matches between contending candidates allow the public a chance to compare arguments, policies and personalities. They offer respect to voters.
There is a flip side, too: Debates also offer the risk that candidates may slip and fall. For that reason, many incumbents are loathe to participate in debates. They may believe that the risks outweigh the rewards, given the advantages their offices provide.
For voters, though, none of that matters. Candidates have an obligation to appear in a public setting and to answer questions that add to voters’ ability to gauge their characters, their records and their intentions.
That is true for all candidates, and especially this year for Collins, R-Clarence. Collins has yet to agree to a public debate with his Democratic opponent, Grand Island Supervisor Nathan McMurray. Some may doubt that he will.
Collins, to be sure, is in what can accurately be described as a pickle: He’s been charged with federal felonies involving insider trading. Those allegations could land him in prison, along with his son, who was also charged. Those issues are already part of the campaign. They will be part of any debate. That’s the way it is.
But Collins has opted to stand for re-election, anyway. For reasons that apparently have more to do with legal strategy than public service, he reversed his decision to suspend his re-election campaign, as he previously announced he would.
That’s his right, of course, but candidacy creates obligations and, over the past several decades, debating your opponent has become one of them. He should take a deep breath, accept the invitation jointly offered by The Buffalo News, WGRZ-TV and WNED/WBFO. That would be a sign not just of seriousness of intent, but respect for voters who, more than ever, have a need to hear Collins answer the questions of serious, qualified and well-respected reporters.
Collins is not alone in needing to take the stage, of course. All candidates – senators, governors, legislators – must make this tradition a part of their campaign routines.
That includes Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who only late in the primary season agreed to a single debate with Cynthia Nixon, his opponent in September’s election. The governor is under pressure because of this year’s corruption convictions of aides and others close to him, but that can’t be a reason not to debate.
Indeed, we expect that he will agree to debate, since he has done so in each of his previous two elections for governor and ultimately did so before last month’s primary. But there should be more than a single event, with at least one held upstate, preferably in Buffalo.
The election is now just five weeks away. It’s time to commit. Office-seekers are fundamentally asking voters to trust them. Collins, Cuomo and all political candidates needs to show up. It’s part of how they earn that trust.