Every election year, the Kansas State Fair is the primary platform for candidates running for state and federal offices to debate in a public, neutral environment -- and often with very large, energetic crowds.
But this year, there's a twist in the debate schedules after a very expensive Republican primary, costing over $5 million, in the 1st U.S. congressional district.
The incumbent tea party darling, Tim Huelskamp, was defeated by Roger Marshall in a bitter fight over Huelskamp's various 'disruption' tactics used throughout his tenure.
The seat is unopposed by a Democratic challenger for the general election, but is being challenged by independent candidate Alan LaPolice.
A former Republican, LaPolice ran against Huelskamp in the 2014 primary, and became disillusioned by the 'party politics' necessary to win a primary -- where to win the primary you have to be the 'best party member,' but this often leads to the best candidates not moving on to the general election.
And so we are left with a race that 'should' be a noteworthy and exciting race for the voters in the 1st district: an incumbent having been unseated during the primary (rare in U.S. House politics), a Democrat not even challenging the seat, and an independent running with a strong platform.
But the sponsors of the debate at the State Fair, radio station WIBW, canceled the 1st district debate, deeming the independent candidate 'inviable.'
But it gets even worse . . .
Instead of the debate between the 1st district candidates, they will be holding an 'ag-forum' with Sen. Pat Roberts (R) who sits on the ag-committee (and not up for election this year), and Roger Marshall -- intentionally not including LaPolice. Agriculture is the leading industry of the 1st congressional district in Kansas.
This is nothing new in party politics when it comes to dealing with independents. The first rule is always to ignore the independent and hope they go away.
So what should be an honest debate between two candidates is becoming a platform of free advertising for Roger Marshall, with no reciprocity given to independent Alan LaPolice.
In a year marked by minor-party candidates struggling for debate access, have those at the state and local levels really learned nothing?
Voters want more choices, they are tired of party politics as usual, but they are also growing increasingly infuriated by the 'dog-and-pony show' style of conducting debates -- giving access to only party darlings.
Independent-minded voters need to ask Kelly Lenz, the ag-director at WIBW, why LaPolice hasn't been included in the debates or 'ag-forum' for this year's State Fair.
Because giving such an overwhelming advantage to the Republican candidate reeks of party politics, cronyism, and rubber-stamp politics.
Author's note: WIBW was asked for comment on this developing story, but has not responded as of the publication of this article.
Update: After publication I received an email from Kelly Lenz.
In it he stated that there weren't plans for a 1st congressional district debate, but even if there were that LaPolice would not meet the general criteria related to contributions collected, staffed office, and 5% in the polls (there are no polls for the 1st district).
He further states that Roger Marshall was selected for the ag-forum because of his extensive experience, but also states 'the winner of this congressional seat will no doubt be appointed to the House Agriculture committee, and be involved in the process of fashioning the next Farm Bill. Given the current state of the Kansas Farm Economy, agriculture groups need to be heard, and it seems clear they tell us they want to hear from Roger Marshall.'