Staff Editorial

Libertarians have earned invitation to Iowa governor debates

Cedar Rapids residents cast ballots at Mount Mercy University. (Adam Wesley/Gazette Archives)
Cedar Rapids residents cast ballots at Mount Mercy University. (Adam Wesley/Gazette Archives)

Iowa’s gubernatorial debates this year will be one lectern short.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and Democrat Fred Hubbell announced they will meet three times before the election. Libertarian candidate Jake Porter has caused a fuss this week about his exclusion from the upcoming events. He says media organizations hosting debates either set criteria he couldn’t meet or excluded him from the planning altogether. Hubbell deserves credit for challenging both Reynolds and Porter to debate, but Reynolds has not acknowledged Porter’s candidacy.

Iowa law requires official political parties to have a candidate for governor or president earn at least 2 percent statewide every two years. Libertarian Gary Johnson surpassed that mark in 2016, and the Libertarians are now one of three major parties under the law.

The media necessarily serves some sort of gatekeeper function in American politics. There simply aren’t enough reporters, newspaper pages or local broadcast news minutes to give every race and every candidate equal attention. Official party status seems a reasonable standard for debate access.

No doubt, Libertarians face long odds. But when Republicans and Democrats run races with no chance to win, they still are invited to participate in the basic traditions of our republic. Consider Utah hasn’t elected a Democrat governor in 38 years and the last political sacrificial lamb earned just 29 percent. He still participated in three debates.

The Gazette Editorial Board is inviting all candidates on the ballot to interviews before we make our endorsements in this November’s elections, about 50 meetings in all. Even if candidates stand little chance to win, we see it as the only fair way to do it.

In 1998, Reform Party candidate Jim Hennager was invited to attend a gubernatorial debate hosted by The Gazette and KCRG. He was a major party candidate after Ross Perot’s performance in the presidential election two years prior. Our front-page story the next day featured prominent photos of all three candidates.

The story focused on the narrative between Republican Jim Ross Lightfoot and Democrat Tom Vilsack, but several paragraphs also were dedicated to Hennager.

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Hennager earned less than 1 percent of the vote. The Reform Party lost its official status, and you probably don’t hear much from them anymore. The system worked how we should hope — thousands of Iowans heard an alternative message, they were not compelled to vote for it and it fizzled out.

Maybe the same will happen to the Libertarians, but they have dedicated considerable time and treasure to achieving whatever success they have had. Republicans and Democrats wrote the rules, and the Libertarians played by them. Win or lose, they deserve their chance to play in the big leagues.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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