The winner of today's Democratic primary for governor will meet Republican Brian Dubie in the first general election debate this Thursday in South Burlington. Not on the invite list: the five independent and minor party candidates who earned spots on the November ballot.
Debate co-host AARP is excluding the five independents because they don't meet their criteria for being viable candidates, says AARP's Dave Reville. Even though the candidates collectively garnered 2500 signatures to get onto the ballot, Reville says they fall short on three fronts.
AARP national debate rules require candidates to pass a four-prong test for debate inclusion, Reville says. First, they must registered with the Secretary of State (all candidates would seemingly fulfill that). Second, they must have a brick-and-mortar campaign office and be reachable by phone during business hours. Third, independent candidates must register at least 5 percent in pre-election public opinion polls. And fourth, for party candidates, such as those from the Liberty Union Party, they must have won at least 5 percent in the previous general election.
"Our goal is to educate voters before they go to the polls, to question and hear from the most viable candidates," says Reville, associate state director for the Vermont State Office of AARP.
AARP's third rule presents an obvious problem for the independents since public opinion polls conducted in Vermont this year haven't presented their name as an option. Asked what happens if the candidates aren't among the choices offered to poll takers, Reville says, "Well, then they probably won't get 5 percent."
The independent candidates are apparently planning a protest, or counter-debate, outside the Doubletree Hotel, where the debate is being held. Steele, who's campaigning on Vermont seceding from the United States, tells Blurt he's "not going to take it lying down." He's already set up a "Let Dennis Speak" Facebook page and is rallying supporters to demand the AARP let him join Dubie and the Dem on stage.
"If there is no reversal, we will be staging a demonstration outside the event," Steele's campaign manager, Matt Cropp, tells Blurt.
Steele argues that he easily fulfills the first two requirements: He's filed with the Secretary of State and his work office doubles as a campaign headquarters. Plus, he's reachable by cell phone 24-7. Steele calls the third requirement — the 5 percent threshold — "ambiguous" and says he should get "the benefit of the doubt."
From Steele's campaign blog:
We obviously can have little say in what pollsters ask, and in the two Rasmussen polls that have been administered so far, all of the questions have related to pairing various Democratic candidates with Brian Dubie. We hope to be included in the polls once the primary is over, but that, of course, would be too late for your debate. However, the polls do show an interesting trend – in the one from June 17 the option of “some other candidate” receives between 5 and 8% depending on the match-up. With Dennis as the only independent or 3rd party candidate to have filed campaign finance disclosures with the State and far and away the one with the most appearances at gubernatorial forums, I believe it would be fair to assume, given that no polls have actually asked about alternatives to the duopoly candidates, that the bulk of those votes will be for Dennis.
Feliciano, an independent candidate and IBM "change consultant" who lives in Essex, was equally miffed when contacted by Blurt.
"The criteria established to be in the debate favors only well financed, special interest funded (or bought, depending on your perspective), major party candidates," Feliciano wrote in an email. " No surprise here. I guess AARP only wants Vermonters to hear from the individuals who are culpable for the mess we face. Do we need to hear anymore from the candidates that allowed the mess to occur that we find ourselves in, budget deficits despite increasingly higher and higher taxes?"
"During the debate, I think the candidates should be asked to wear bowling shirts that have patches representing their major financial contributors," Feliciano goes on. "Moreover, the size of the patch should be indicative of the amount of money the contributor donated. That way we will have a better idea of who the candidate is actually representing. I’m willing to do so."
Cris Ericson of the United State Marijuana Party sent this reaction to Blurt via email. (We redacted one very offensive word).
"[AARP's] criteria is like a 'poll tax' against 'n----rs' many years ago. Receiving 5 percent in an opinion toll [sic] in which you were not listed as a candidate is like saying only 'whitey' can apply. ...AARP is facist [sic] and totalitarian. I will be sure to list them in my federal fraud complaint against the evil Deborah Markowitz."