Doug Burgum Running Mate Brent Sanford Declines Debate With Opponents


Gubernatorial candidate Doug Burgum, who seemed to be everywhere during the Republican primary in which he beat Republican opponent Wayne Stenehjem in a landslide, has been a lot quieter during the general election campaign. Probably because, as he’s said himself, nobody really expects him to lose to Democratic challenger Marvin Nelson or Libertarian Marty Riske.

Still, it’s been disappointing to see Burgum be very reticent to engage. He has kept a tight control on the number of debates he’s willing to participate in. He turned down one I invited him to, leaving just Nelson and Riske to square off, and he’s turned down others as well.

Now comes news from the Nelson campaign that Burgum’s running mate, Watford City mayor Brent Sanford, has declined a debate as well. The Nelson campaign sent out this press release on behalf of their Lt. Governor candidate state Senator Joan Heckaman:

On October 18th, North Dakota voters lost a great opportunity to learn more about the Lt. Governor candidates. Marauders on Politics in conjunction with the University of Mary’s Office of Public Affairs invited the candidates to have a debate.  They said “two of the greatest problems facing our Republic are the decrease in the political knowledge of the electorate and the subsequent rise in voter apathy.” Joan Heckaman, the Lt. Governor candidate with Marvin Nelson, and Joshua Voytek, the candidate running with Marty Riske accepted. Brent Sanford, the Lt. governor candidate with Doug Burgum, declined the invitation.  Voters of our state deserve better from the people vying to represent them in Bismarck. I would argue that Brent Sanford doesn’t know enough about government or about policies to take a stance and he knew if he came to this debate, it would be apparent. I have been in the Senate since 2006, I know how the government works, and I truly believe I will be the best Lt. Governor to oversee the Senate. One that represents the people and does not hide. We must be available to the very people we work for- the North Dakota citizens.

Sharp words, to be sure. I’m not sure it’s fair to throw dirt on Sanford’s qualifications for office – there’s an old joke about how Lt. Governors don’t look out the window in the morning so they have something to do in the afternoon – but I think we should all be disappointed when candidates for any public office decline debates without good reason.

And by “good reason” I mean something more than “we already have a couple of debates scheduled” or “we’ll probably win anyway even if we don’t debate.”

What else to politicians have to do during campaign season than campaign? And perhaps the most useful sort of campaigning for voters is that in which the various candidates engage one another extemporaneously.

The Burgum and Sanford ticket has little to fear from the Democratic or Libertarian candidates. We needn’t pretend as though they aren’t the heavy favorites heading into election day. But so what?

Our expectation should be that they engage at every reasonable opportunity.

On a related note, Burgum will be on my radio show today at 1pm. Tune in to WDAY AM970 to listen.