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Take in Tuesday's Senate debate

The only northwestern Minnesota debate between U.S. Senate candidates will be conducted Tuesday night at Concordia College in Moorhead. I'm one of the moderators, along with Kelly Boldan, editor of the West Central Tribune at Willmar, Minn. The F...

The only northwestern Minnesota debate between U.S. Senate candidates will be conducted Tuesday night at Concordia College in Moorhead. I'm one of the moderators, along with Kelly Boldan, editor of the West Central Tribune at Willmar, Minn. The Forum and the Tribune are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

The debate, among Republican Mark Kennedy, Democrat Amy Klobuchar and the Independence Party's Robert Fitzgerald, is sponsored by Debate Minnesota, a non-profit foundation led by a multi-partisan board of directors. Debate Minnesota sponsored its first round of debates two years ago. I moderated legislative debates in Henning and Brainerd. Both debates were exercises in the right kind of civic discourse. They conformed to the foundation's purpose, which is to promote civility in politics and engage voters in fair and open forums that highlight candidates' views on important public policy issues.

That purpose is why I signed on to be co-moderator in Tuesday's senatorial debate. A live debate is better for politics than self-serving, low-road television spots.

The Minnesota Senate race is one of the most interesting - and most contentious - on the political landscape. While independent candidate Fitzgerald will be on the stage Tuesday night, the spotlight will be on Kennedy and Klobuchar. Their campaign has generated sparks; it seems they really don't like each other.

Polls consistently put Kennedy, the retiring 6th District congressman, in double digits behind Klobuchar, the Hennepin County prosecutor. In the last couple of weeks Kennedy's television ads have taken a distinctly negative turn in an attempt to paint Klobuchar as having said one thing but done another. Klobuchar's response ads also have a sharper edge. In one very effective spot, a supporter says Kennedy should "be ashamed of himself," apparently for criticizing his opponent.

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Debate Minnesota's format is designed to elicit information from the candidates, not give them a platform for cheap shots. Of course, that's easier said than done when the candidates have - as they say - "issues" with each other.

It will be the job of the moderators - Boldan and me - to stick to the format and keep the debate civil and informative. We've also made ample time for audience questions after the structured debate concludes.

Concordia will host the event at the Centrum, beginning at 7 p.m. Minnesota Public Radio will tape the debate for broadcast the next day on its noon public affairs program.

It's free and open to the public. Seating is generous but limited. Take a couple of hours to see the system at work. Thanks to Debate Minnesota, it's shaping up to be political discourse at its best.

Zaleski can be reached at jzaleski@forumcomm.com or (701) 241-5521.

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