During this election cycle I have been silent on the pages of the newspaper, and holding out for answers to actual questions for candidates before I make personal decisions for this midterm on Nov. 6.
The Log Cabin this week launched a free voter website http://inconway.com/vote, soliciting by email participation from local and state candidates to fill out bios and answer a few questions about their campaigns.
Early voting starts Oct. 22, so I am hopeful those bios will be completed in time for the voting public to make some choices. So many candidates this cycle are unknown to voters and having at least a glimpse of who they are and what they stand for would be helpful.
Also this week, the planned Legislative forum to be hosted on Monday, Oct. 15, by this newspaper for State House District 70 and State Senate District 35, was ultimately canceled because the Republican incumbent for the Senate decided he “didn’t have to” participate. Not 24 hours later, the Republican candidate for the House seat also declined the invitation by email citing “issues concerning the developing nature of this debate.”
On Sept. 20, Sen. Jason Rapert asked the Log Cabin and former editor and current University of Central Arkansas professor David Keith to host the debate and to offer a nonpartisan podium for these races. The LCD and Mr. Keith obliged, securing participation from each candidate, establishing the venue, preparing a format and questions and promoting the event.
On Oct. 8, Rapert decided not to participate, and House candidate Spencer Hawks apparently followed suit.
Rapert’s decision to pull out of the public debate a week ahead of the event is based on what he calls “dangerous rhetoric.” His opponent, Democrat Maureen Skinner, sent out a Tweet in September alleging Rapert had been endorsed by the KKK. Rapert says that is untrue and wants a public apology from Skinner. He states in emails to the LCD and Mr. Keith that he doesn’t want to “reward her with a platform.” He also states he feels threatened.
“You both need to understand the danger it creates for a candidate to post something so horrible like that,” Rapert stated in an email. “What if a person saw her post, it triggered the worst in them, and they actually came and shot me based on her allegation referencing the KKK? Would that be worth it to you?”
I had the opportunity to speak to Sen. Rapert on Saturday and we civilly discussed this issue. He feels strongly that the media should cover Skinner’s comments on Twitter because they are impactful and wrong. But the Log Cabin under my oversight has never and will never cover Twitter arguments between people. If an issue comes to local courts, public figures are arrested or cases filed against them, we will cover those things as news items.
During our phone call, I told Mr. Rapert I did not agree that this Tweet was grounds for calling off the debate. He did not agree and defended that what he considers a personal attack on his character is reprehensible, and walking away from the debate was a message to her that he will not stand for her allegation.
I am a journalist, Mr. Rapert. Our U.S. President has gone so far in June as to attack me and my colleagues across the country as “enemies of the people,” resulting in an almost immediate newsroom shooting and the death of four journalists. So, let’s unpack the phrase “dangerous rhetoric.”
I have personally sat across from death row inmates who describe in detail how they have raped and murdered and who have implied they would do the same to me because I didn’t see things their way. I have had my tires slashed for an editorial written in another small town about a public figure. And I want to be very clear — I’m writing this editorial now without fear.
I am often approached in public with my children in tow by people angry at the newspaper. My reporters are subjected to insults and hurtful accusations almost daily by people who buy into the “enemy of the people” rhetoric.
If I can come to work every day and I can encourage my team of young journalists to overcome their fears in the state of this nation where the chips are certainly stacked against them, why can’t a sitting senator do the same? And, isn’t it a fantastic opportunity to face your Twitter accuser on a public platform? Wouldn’t that be worth it to you, Sen. Rapert?
Since the beginning of time, public servants in the political realm accept there will be adversity against them. People will attack their character, faith, and even family. I hate that the world is like that, but it is. No public figure is immune.
Believe me when I say I am not attacking Sen. Rapert. I have no reason to do so. I am simply asking him to stop the histrionics.
If safety truly is an issue, why does he continue show up at other events such as the Conway Business Expo on Thursday or the Governor’s debate on Friday — both public events in this community that draw crowds of all kinds — even encouraging people to attend?
That original logic doesn’t hold water.
This all too familiar game of playing victim politics instead of being responsible to constituents is wearing on the nerves of this community. Public servants don’t get to choose their constituents. They choose you.
Public servants don’t get to say to those of us asking questions in a civil, public forum that they just “don’t have to” participate. Yes, of course they do. It is the definition of the job. And it is the voters’ job to hold them accountable every time the polls are open.
Kelly Sublett is the group publisher for the Log Cabin Democrat, Van Buren County Democrat and The Sun Times in Heber Springs. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 501-505-1213.