Open Debates for America, Coral Gables, Florida.  (more | related)
Sept. 30, 2004--While hundreds of media gathered at the University of Miami for the first presidential debate, across the highway at the Holiday Inn Libertarian Party nominee Michael Badnarik and Green Party nominee David Cobb participated in a debate sponsored by The University of Miami's Council for Democracy (a student organization), the Miami Dade College North Student Government Association, and the Maryland-based Center for Voting and Democracy.  To participate a candidate had to be on the ballot in enough states to obtain 270 electoral votes.  Jennifer Van Bergen, JD, an expert on the Patriot Act and author of The Twilight of Democracy: The Bush Plan for America, moderated the forum.  (more)

Jeff Goddin, an activist with the Green Party in Miami Dade County, provided some background:

JG: ...this was all something that was just an idea four weeks ago, when the local Green Party sat down for a strategy meeting and said well what do we want to do around the election and it came up that David Cobb, our candidate, was going to be in town and wanted to do something too, maybe a press conference.  

We had the idea of a forum, and decided to put it all together.  The reason why we wanted a forum was we feel like in the presidential two-party debates a lot of viewpoints aren't covered.  We wanted to...state publicly what some other viewpoints were that were held by a large number of people that aren't currently represented in our electoral system.  And the idea is these are valid ideas.  When people hear them they say, yeah, why aren't we talking about these things.  And they come to the conclusion themselves that maybe our electoral system needs to be worked on a little bit.

Q: What did it take to go from this idea to this event?  Were there hurdles that had to be overcome?

JG: Yes, certainly getting a sponsor in the first place, getting official invitations out to candidates from the sponsors.  Then time was all crunched together.  Figuring out the budget, working out the details over conference calls using the consensus process.  It's not like anyone was designated as being in charge of the event.  It's just everybody who was interested in seeing it happen got together and created the vision together.

One of the hurdles was definitely working with people in Ralph Nader's campaign.  The early interest that he expressed and some suggestions he had about the format--we went with it a little bit.  It took us a while to settle on a name for the event, for instance, because the Nader campaign had been pushing something called shadow debates and then eventually Nader said that he would only participate if the event were sponsored by Open Debates, the organization, and their criteria for sponsoring a debate like this is it has to have candidates that are polling over 50 percent among likely voters--that the voters would like to see this person in the debates.  And so that only included Ralph Nader and the fact that we were going to be working with Cobb and Badnarik and at the time Peroutka, the Constitution [Party] candidate meant that they wouldn't.  So basically Ralph Nader said he doesn't want to participate, and we can speculate about why...

Q: Who did you talk to in their campaign?

JG: There's a fellow, we call him Zewel [phon.], Paul Zulkowitz, who is kind of a free agent with the Nader campaign.  He's not employed with them, but he's down here now.  Nader's down here now.  Nader might show up later.  We don't know, but probably not.

Q: And how about the Constitution Party candidate; did they express interest?

JG: Yeah, they were 95% sure, but it just didn't work out logistically for them because of the short notice of this event.  It was put together, really, in three weeks.  He was committed for six days and was going to have to fly out and fly back.  He was interested in maybe teleconferencing, something like that, but that just doesn't work with the format.  So he wants to be here but unfortunately can't be.

Ed. Note: John Lofton, communications director for the Peroutka campaign, was present in the audience.

Copyright © 2004, 2005 Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.