EDITORIAL: Show up, debate, make a good impression

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Part of being a high-profile politician is having the ability to voice your goals, plans and ideals in any setting.

Another part of it is being able to handle the spotlight and understand difficult questions should be expected.

These two parts meld in the long-practiced political forum known as debates. These give candidates and incumbents a chance to square off and put their ideas and beliefs side by side and let the public decide which they feel is best.

So what happens when one side refuses to participate?

The State of Nebraska found this out recently when Jim Pillen, a Republican candidate for the Governor's seat, turned down two debates – one scheduled by NTV and the other a joint effort by the Omaha World Herald and KMTV, which Herbster also declined, failing to respond to requests to appear. Herbster has since appeared at several debates, including a March 24 event hosted by Nebraska Public Media.

Again, debates give a candidate the chance to explain themselves but they also give the viewing public what could be their first glance or first impression. Refusing to participate in debates at any level gives the impression that a candidate might not care about the public opinion or doesn't feel he or she needs to justify or promote themselves as candidates.

Many factors can go into a candidate declining to participate and most of the time, we as the public will never know the exact reason. All we can do is speculate, which should not be what a politician wants. Some withdrawals are because of family matters or health emergencies, which are two things that should never be trumped.

However, in Pillen's case, he dismissed debates as “political theater.” In other cases, we don't get an explanation.

All we get in those situations is the perception that a candidate does not feel like the public is worthy of his or her time. Instead, the viewing public gets the chance to see the candidates who do show up and do take the time to address the comments and concerns of the people they'll be serving if elected.

Politicians on any level should be challenged to participate in debates when offered. No matter on the local, statewide or national or national levels, no candidate should feel like they're too important for a debate.

Locally, citizens pack libraries and gymnasiums for a rare opportunity to see all the candidates in one place. Nationally, and to some extent, statewide, people turn on their televisions to find out what someone who could represent them thinks about the topics that could affect their lives and livelihoods.

Don't refuse these opportunities, because what it looks like to those who take the time to tune in is that you'll be absent when you serve, too.

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