The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

July 19, 2012

Parry declines debate

MANKATO — Unless state Sen. Mike Parry reverses his decision — and quickly — there will be no traditional debate prior to the Aug. 14 primary election that will decide whether Parry or former state Rep. Allen Quist will be Congressman Tim Walz’s Republican challenger in November.

Parry, a Waseca Republican, declined an offer by Debate Minnesota to face off with Quist in a formal 90-minute debate in southern Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District. Parry spokesman Ben Golnik said it was a tactical decision about the best use of the candidate’s time in the waning days of the primary election.

But the choice also plays into Quist’s on-going claim that Parry is too frightened to debate and that Republican voters should be nervous about Parry’s potential performance against Walz if he is the GOP candidate this fall.

“What he told the debate group is he didn’t have time,” Quist said. “... On his (website) schedule, 80 percent of the dates were wide open. So I think it was pretty obvious he was afraid.”

Golnik said that’s untrue — part of a pattern of Quist offering misleading statements as the “perennial candidate” tries to end a political losing streak that stretches back to the 1990s.

Golnik said Parry has agreed to participate in events with Quist at FarmFest, on Twin Cities Public Television’s “Almanac” show and on KSTP’s “At Issue” program.

“Three debates in a very condensed period of time is sufficient,” Golnik said.

Those events, however, are substantially different than the traditional-style debate sponsored by Debate Minnesota. The organization’s debates last 90 minutes, allow candidates to respond to their opponent’s answers and are modeled after the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates.

By contrast, “Almanac” gave Quist and Parry less than nine minutes in what was essentially a joint interview a week before the April 21 Republican endorsing convention in Mankato. KSTP’s “At Issue” runs for 28 minutes on Sunday mornings.

The FarmFest political forum in rural Redwood Falls will last more than an hour but isn’t portrayed as a debate by sponsors. Questions are largely focused on agricultural issues and the format doesn’t include rebuttals. FarmFest also combines candidates from three or more congressional districts in a single forum.

If Parry had agreed to the Debate Minnesota request, there’s a good chance it would have allowed Mankato-area voters to see the two candidates face off in the midst of an increasingly contentious campaign. The organization, led by prominent former political leaders from both major parties, has often picked Mankato to host congressional, gubernatorial and U.S. Senate debates — partly because of partnerships with local colleges and partly because the Mankato debates have consistently drawn large crowds.

“We would have liked to have scheduled one,” said Debate Minnesota Director Mary Underwood. “... It has just not worked out with the schedules of the candidates.”

Debate Minnesota is sponsoring a Democratic debate in northern Minnesota’s 8th District and would still be willing to try to get one scheduled in southern Minnesota’s 1st, although time is running out, according to Underwood.

“It’s more likely not going to happen,” she said. “But I would still try to pull something together. I’d do my best to make it happen.”

Golnik indicated that the Parry campaign’s decision is final and that the campaign is prioritizing direct contact with voters, including upcoming “meet and greet” sessions where people can quiz him on issues.

“Our perspective is we have a finite amount of time that we can have Mike out meeting the electorate,” he said.

Quist has been claiming since the endorsing convention that Parry is a weak debater who would perform poorly against Walz. Nearly nine hours into the 14-hour endorsement marathon at the Kato Ballroom, which ended with delegates deadlocked after 23 rounds of balloting, Quist and his supporters attempted to goad Parry into an impromptu mini-debate.

Parry declined, saying delegates didn’t support the idea, and Quist’s backers chanted “Debate! Debate! Debate!” at him as he moved through the convention.

Quist eventually left five questions on the podium before Parry’s next speech, asking his opponent to answer them and leave five of his own for Quist to respond to. One of the question’s sought Parry’s position on the cap and trade energy bill.

“I don’t think Mike Parry has a clue what cap and trade is, but I’m going to give him a chance to prove me wrong,” Quist told the delegates.

Quist’s final question was aimed more at the delegates: “Why in heavens name would you want to endorse a candidate to debate Tim Walz when that candidate is afraid to debate Allen Quist?”

This week, Quist was still attempting to apply the screws. Largely due to self-financing, the retired St. Peter farmer is in a position to outspend Parry five-to-one in the final weeks of the campaign, and Quist said Parry should welcome a debate that would provide a large crowd and lot of no-cost media publicity.

“At this point in time, he can’t afford to dodge debates,” Quist said. “He has to take some chances.”

Golnik, though, said Parry is connecting with voters through a “shoe-leather campaign” that has included more than 20 community parades. And he said Parry better matches the beliefs of 1st District voters than Quist, who Golnik said has numerous positions outside the mainstream.

“He’s just out of step with a vast majority of Minnesotans,” Golnik said.

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