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Debates are part of democratic process

With each election comes a renewed debate about the value and function of debates. Incumbents who feel safe naturally don’t feel obligated to engage their opponents on equal footing, hence the ubiquitous election season debate over debates.

The excuses are unending: Scheduling conflicts, debate format disagreements. But we feel the public’s right to know outweighs a public official’s desire for self-preservation.

Even if debates don’t change many minds, the format pressures idealistic newbies and incumbents alike to defend their ideas and their votes before the public. So it’s good to hear that voters in Indiana’s Second District will have at least two opportunities to witness a debate before the midterms.

U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski has agreed to two televised debates with Democratic challenger Mel Hall. A third debate may be in the works, but as of this writing only two were confirmed. South Bend news stations WNDU and WSBT will each host one of those debates, which will also be streamed online for those (like us) who are outside the viewing area.

Still closer to home is the 17th State Senate District. Democratic candidate Gary Snyder is asking his opponent Sen. Andy Zay for a debate, but a spokesperson for Zay on Tuesday told the Plain Dealer that he currently has no intention of participating.

We hope he changes his mind. The office he holds is significant, and voters have a right to learn where Zay stands when it comes to legislation the General Assembly may consider next session.

Politics is almost certainly playing into Zay’s decision. The Snyder campaign’s invitation to Zay makes reference to a controversial Facebook conversation in which Zay wrote that “racism is not real,” a comment which more than likely spooked Zay out of agreeing to a debate in a district that is already deeply conservative and favorable to his election.

But we hope Zay and Snyder are able to reach an agreement anyway.

There are many other topics that need to be discussed in a setting where constituents can compare and contrast the candidates for an office that is often overlooked by voters. A debate, albeit one on neutral ground, is the best setting to highlight these differences.