Charging “invisible” candidates are showing “disrespect for Pima County and its voters,” the League of Women Voters of Greater Tucson has called off a series of debates next month after Republican candidates for state office declined to take part.
While the candidates will face off at various venues in Maricopa County, there are no similar head-to-head showdowns with their Democratic opponents on tap in Pima County — the state’s biggest Democratic stronghold.
The nonpartisan league announced this week it has scrapped plans for debates in early October in the three statewide races — secretary of state, attorney general and superintendent of public instruction — after Republican candidates turned down invitations to the events, which were to be televised by Arizona Public Media.
Another league-sponsored debate with gubernatorial candidates will proceed next month with Democrat Fred DuVal, Libertarian Barry Hess and Americans Elect candidate J.L. Mealer, but without GOP nominee Doug Ducey.
Ducey did one Tucson debate but has declined to take part in others here.
GOP candidates have made regular ventures into Southern Arizona to make solo presentations before supportive audiences, but they have been reluctant to do side-by-side appearances.
“When candidates decline to participate in a televised debate in Tucson, it shows disrespect for Pima County and its voters,” said the league’s voter service chairwoman, Sue DeArmond.
“Invisible candidates are running for public office. A brief TV commercial is the only way by which we know our candidates. To say the least, democracy is compromised under these conditions,” she said.
Republicans candidates pushed back, noting they have agreed to other debates and regularly visit the second-largest metropolitan area in the state.
“Doug has made Tucson, Pima County and Southern Arizona a hallmark of his campaign because he knows that good ideas come from more than one county. He was proud to debate his opponents in front of a standing-room-only crowd last week at a forum sponsored by the YWCA, Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce,” said Ducey campaign spokeswoman Melissa De-Laney.
A spokesman for DuVal said the latest missed debate opportunity is no surprise.
Geoffrey Vetter, communications director for the DuVal campaign, said Ducey has also rejected debates in Yuma and Flagstaff, and he withdrew from one in Pinal County that he had already agreed to attend.
During a trip to Tucson on Wednesday, secretary of state GOP nominee Michele Reagan said the planned debate in Tucson simply was not possible, given a hectic statewide schedule.
Reagan has a debate scheduled with her Democratic rival, Terry Goddard, the day before and the day after the proposed candidate forum in Tucson.
“I am disappointed, but not surprised, that my opponent refused the invitation ... in Tucson,” said Goddard. “Senator Reagan is not only disrespecting the league but the voters of Pima County by eliminating any chance for them to compare the candidates for secretary of state side by side.”
A debate tentatively scheduled for this weekend in Congressional District 2 jointly hosted by the League of Women Voters and KVOA has also been canceled, a league representative confirmed.
In the CD 2 race, the league had set a tentative date of Sept. 28 but canceled after not being able to get both candidates to commit.
The status of a future league-sponsored event is uncertain, as representatives for Democrat Ron Barber and Republican Martha McSally have said they would like to, but finding a date agreeable to both has been problematic.
In lieu of the canceled debates for the statewide offices, the league has opted to host a “Conversation With the Candidate.”
The new forum will give interested locals a chance to interact with candidates who have previously agreed to appear.