The biggest debate in the state of Rhode Island is whether there will be a debate in the primaries at all.
The primary elections are only a month away. Gina Raimondo and Allan Fung are currently leading the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial fields respectively, and both candidates are not looking to debate their primary opponents.
Many debates have been proposed. Matt Brown has proposed five different debates to the current incumbent. Gina Raimondo however, has not agreed to any debates. Fung has only agreed to one radio debate. Many Rhode Islanders, including those they are running against, are not fans of their current poll front runners from avoiding debates.
“It’s a tremendous disservice and it’s also really undemocratic,” says GOP hopeful Giovanni Feroce. “[debate] allows for the voters to contrast the opponents based on the message of what they’re actually saying, how they’re saying it, and how they look saying it. It’s not enough to just have a radio debate. You need a televised visual portion, or at least something where an audience can gage how you answered a question and how you answered it.”
Feroce feels that avoiding a debate might be in Raimondo’s best interests. “One of the poor qualities about this governor has been that she talks down to people and the way she engages the general population. Not debating and hiding away until the general election could be a way to get through an election, but certainly isn’t what’s in the best interest of the state.”
Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Spencer Dickinson also felt qualities about the current governor would hurt her in a debate. “She’s probably making the right decision. She’d be making a terrible decision to debate me and Matt Brown both. I think a debate is certainly something that would not go well for her. She can’t answer the questions. She certainly can’t answer the questions that I would have.”
For both Feroce and Dickinson, political candidates avoiding debate is a disservice to the community.
Said Dickinson, “We have a political system and we all take part in it. Even if you’re the number one elected official in the state, the people deserve nothing less than debate. And if I’m governor or hold another elected office, I will debate my challenger(s).”
It’s an effective way to get their messages across and reach a new audience. Without that, they may have to change campaign strategies to ensure that their messages are heard.
“For someone like me who’s run only a positive campaign, and not been negative in any way, then maybe I would have to change tactics to have people hear what we’re saying to one another,” stated Feroce. “Maybe that would have to be done in commercials and in other things.”
While Fung is engaging in one debate (on WNRI), Giovanni feels that it is not enough. “I don’t think there is any difference between Allan Fung and Gina Raimondo when it comes to the response to debate. Although I appreciate that we have a potential forum coming up, Allan Fung is outright not showing up for a debate. He’s not saying yes to any statewide opportunity for us to showcase our messages and ourselves, and to contrast one another.”
Dickinson was also not a fan of this decision. “Even if he feels he is way ahead of some secondary or less important candidate, that doesn’t change the fact that he has a responsibility to let the people have the information that they need to make their decision.”
When asked if Allan Fung is scared to debate him and Patricia Morgan, Feroce said “Absolutely. I wish he wasn’t. I wish he would. Frankly I didn’t expect him not to. This is a new development and it’s not a good one.”
“I’m a combat veteran. I just cannot imagine being led by someone who would be fearful. That’s not a quality that a leader should display. It is telling of their way of handling potential crisis in the future.”
Despite Matt Brown challenging Gina Raimondo, Spencer Dickinson added that Brown might be doing the same thing if he were leading the polls. “I don’t think Matt Brown wants to debate me. I think it will be very interesting if he does. It’ll be interesting to see if anything develops. If Matt’s serious about debating Gina he should likewise debate me. Let’s find out if he would be able to answer the questions that I have. The question is: Is Matt Brown ready to debate me? I’m not so sure that he is. Let’s stay tuned on that one.“
With one month left before the primaries, it looks like there will not be many primary debates in the gubernatorial race.