It Doesn’t Look Like There Will Be A Boustany-Landry Debate…

…which we would suspect everyone would agree is a crying shame.

Exactly why the debates won’t happen, of course, is a matter it doesn’t appear anybody would agree on.

So to explain all this is going to be a little tricky. Bear with us here.

First, it seemed as though pretty much every Tea Party, TV station, radio station, women’s group and college in the district wanted to put a debate on. But only four of those debates ever made it to the point where they stood a serious chance of happening – a Lafayette event held Monday put on by the League of Women Voters that neither of the major candidates took part in, a forum put on in Lake Charles by the Southwest Louisiana Tea Party tonight, another on Monday in Lafayette to be sponsored by ULL and a third on Wednesday at McNeese State in Lake Charles.

As of right now, the debate at UL-Lafayette appears as though it won’t happen. And the Democrat candidate, Ron Richard, will only attend the McNeese debate Wednesday.

Charles Boustany, from the looks of it, isn’t going to show at any of the four.

First, tonight’s debate. It will actually streaming online at ThinkTownUSA.com. It will feature Jeff Landry, Bryan Barrilleaux and Jim Starks. Barrilleaux and Starks are both out of Lake Charles; the former is a Republican and the latter a Libertarian. Richard and Boustany both cited prior engagements, but few in the Southwest Louisiana Tea Party bought those excuses – Boustany’s people gave the organizers of the event the relatively strong impression, as they related it to the Hayride, that he has no interest in sharing a stage with Landry.

That might not be a fair characterization, and the Boustany camp wouldn’t be unreasonable if they disagreed with it. It seems that the circumstances of the debate process as a whole serve as something of an indictment, however.

Because the debate making all the news today is the one which at this point won’t happen at all. That being the one in Lafayette

The only debate planned between the two Louisiana congressmen running against each other for re-election has been canceled.

Republican U.S. Reps. Charles Boustany and Jeff Landry were scheduled to debate each other Monday on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus. But UL officials announced the event won’t happen.

Ryan Teten, a political science professor involved in organizing the debate, says there were communication problems among university officials that derailed the plans.

The ULL debate cancellation was the subject of a rather controversial piece at the website of the left-wing local tabloid The Independent, which got hold of an e-mail string between Teten, who is a poli sci professor at the school, and Robert Buckman, a professor in the ULL journalism department who was tasked with putting together a panel of interviewers for the debate. That string made it appear that ULL completely failed to get its act together in putting the debate on – but not to the extent that the event shouldn’t have been salvageable.

Buckman cites “unforeseen conflicts involving time, location and format.” But that’s not exactly accurate, and sources close to Boustany are wondering, was the four-term Lafayette congressman being set up for a fall?

IND Monthly has obtained an email thread demonstrating that for nearly three weeks the Boustany camp — Chief of Staff Jeff Dobrozsi and Campaign Manager John Porter, specifically — were not copied on emails between Buckman and the Landry camp concerning details about the format for Monday’s event. Much changed in that interim. According to sources, the last time the Boustany camp was updated on the debate was around Friday, Sept. 21. At that time the event was scheduled for a smaller venue in Burke-Hawthorne Hall, Lake Charles Democrat Ron Richard was supposed to be part of it, KATC was going to broadcast the event live and KATC anchor Hoyt Harris was set to moderate it.

Walter Pierce, the Independent’s publisher who authored the piece, clearly got his information from Boustany’s campaign – read the piece and that’s obvious. And while that’s OK, the e-mail thread it refers to seems to make one wonder whether this business of nobody from Boustany’s office getting any information is on the level…

On Tuesday of this week, Dr. Ryan Teten, the UL political science professor who was pegged to moderate the debate, emailed Dobrozsi and Porter at Boustany’s office with the press release Buckman had released to the media earlier that day about the Monday debate. Head scratching ensued at Camp Boustany. Porter emailed Teten back at just after 6 p.m. Tuesday: “Dr. Teten: What happened with Richard? What happened with Hoyt Harris? Now we have a panel? I’m confused here on the changes.”

So between September 21 and October 9 there was no effort made by Boustany’s campaign to nail down the agenda, format and schedule for the debate?

What’s more, Buckman had been sending out press releases updating the status of the event and detailing the changes. Perhaps he might have liked to include Boustany’s people on his distribution list and not doing so conjures up images of Fred MacMurray and his prolific rubber ball. But one presumes that somebody at Boustany’s Lafayette office reads the local papers; if so, they’d have known at least some of the particulars a week earlier and could have asked about them.

But in any event, once Porter fired off that “what’s with this thing you want us to do next week, again?” e-mail, Teten went into panic mode…

Checking back on all of the communications sent out, it seems as though Dr. Buckman left both you and John completely off of his mailing list that had updates at each step of the process. I apologize profusely for this. Therefore, you have not been getting any of the e-mails that he has been sending over the last three weeks regarding any of the planning going on for the debate (all of the panelists and Landrys [sic] campaign manager are on the list). As soon as KATC suggested that the event would not be televised, Dr. Buckman took the reins quite forcefully and set up the panels, the venue and was sending out the e-mail updates. The format and trying to insert myself as moderator to manage the debate were some of the only ways that I have been able to get any sense of stability to the event. If there is anything that you would like me to do at this point for you all, please let me know immediately.

Which paints Teten and Buckman as a couple of people staggering past each other in the dark, naturally. And the fact that the panel Buckman put together supposedly had no less than SEVEN questioners on it would have been unattractive; seven panelists is a joint press conference, not a debate.

Nonetheless, Teten went further…

Jeff, If Boustany has any reservations about the event, I can gladly suggest that I completely screwed up the date or the communications and can issue a press release suggesting that it was completely my fault in terms of a debate organization mishap and we can cancel it. I do not want this event to seem like a gotcha tactic on you guys or make it something that endangers the relationship UL and our department have with you and Rep. Boustany. I feel like I should have been on top of the e-mail list Dr. Buckman was using so that all concerns could be expressed way in advance. Please let me know if there are any steps you need me to take either way.

And then Pierce went off the rails, perhaps aided by the Boustany campaign and perhaps not (one senses he enthusiastically took out the long knives for FreedomWorks and the Tea Party whether Boustany’s people offered them as a target or not)…

The Boustany camp is fuming, fully suspecting FreedomWorks and the Tea Party of Lafayette, which jointly opened a “get out the vote” pro-Landry office in Lafayette on Monday — FreedomWorks is the non-profit, conservative political group that essentially invented the tea party movement in 2009 and has bankrolled much of its “grassroots” activities — played some role in the screw up.

But after the publication of Pierce’s piece, Teten showed up in the comments with a “Hey, screw you, pal” for the ages…

Hi Walter,

I was a bit surprised to see the article regarding a UL debate that was published yesterday, primarily due to the fact that I was never contacted with regard to the content or to check the information provided. In no way was the debate any kind of partisan move in an attempt to trap either candidate; it was, and has always been about providing information on the candidates and their positions to all of the voters of the 3rd Congressional District, nothing more. There is no agenda from the Tea Party, the Democratic Party or the Republican Party behind the debate’s organization or cancellation. The article also uses e-mails to suggest more than they actually do and create artificial divisiveness between the candidates and entities at the university. To reiterate, the reason for the cancellation of the debate was miscommunication, and maintenance of communication between all parties involved. It would not have been fair to either candidate to organize something without making sure every single entity involved was on the same page. I would appreciate a retraction on the claims made in the article and consultation to check facts and allegations in the future.

That FreedomWorks shot ruffled some feathers at ULL for sure; one senses Teten and Buckman don’t particularly consider themselves as ornaments on Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe’s lawns.

But the coup de grace came courtesy of Buckman, who followed Pierce’s article with an e-mail blasted to every media source in Acadiana he could think of…

Colleagues:

I just read the unbelievably slanted and inaccurate article in The Independent. “Buckman did not return a phone call Wednesday evening seeking comment” because Buckman was attending his daughter’s 30th birthday party at her house and didn’t have his cell phone with him. Forgive me! I sent Wally a detailed explanation of the events as I understood them. Too bad he jumped the gun before he read it.

Since the Boustany campaign apparently provided Wally with my email for publication, I might as well go public with the part of the email he chose not to publish. I had mistakenly thought I had sent it to both camps: I resent it this morning to the Landry campaign. My fault. It went to John Porter, the Boustany campaign manager, and to Jeff Dobrozsi, the chief of staff.

Ryan (Teten) kept waiting for an answer from Richard, so I got Richard’s number and called last week. The woman in his office told me that they lost Dr. Teten’s email address and didn’t know how to contact him. (Sure.) The late notice that Richard would not appear was not Dr. Teten’s fault. (They could have called the UL switchboard–RTB)

My role in this debate was to assemble a panel of local journalists. My sole concern was that we have a fair, professional debate with questions directed toward both candidates, with no “gotcha” questions. I have organized and moderated many such debates on campus.

Is there any way your two camps can agree to salvage this debate? There is a great deal of media interest. Dr. Teten, bless his heart, is offering to fall on his sword over this. Like me, he had no ulterior motive and no ax to grind with either of your candidates. We both just wanted to provide a service to the voters.

If all else fails, I would hope that your candidates would be willing to sit down for interviews, which would be published in The Vermilion and carried on KRVS’ “Louisiana Focus” program. There are roughly 14,000 voting-age students at UL, a huge constituency.

Best regards, Robert Buckman, Ph.D.

Mr. Porter didn’t answer, and I tried and failed to reach him by phone yesterday afternoon. I received only a curt response from Mr. Dobrozsi, the chief of staff, that insinuated I had deliberately kept the Boustany campaign out of the loop. That is nonsense.

I just checked my email files and my last contact with the Landry campaign was on Aug. 27, which was to Phillip Joffrion, who said Mr. Landry was agreeable to a certain date for a debate. My last contact with Mr. Porter of the Boustany campaign was about the same time. After I was told that Dr. Teten and KATC were discussing a live broadcast debate, I bowed out until the live broadcast fell through.

I deeply resent, after two months of trying to arrange a fair, professional debate as I have done many times before, of being accused 0f trying to “set-up” or embarrass one candidate or another. That is patently untrue! I honestly haven’t even decided which candidate I’m going to vote for, and frankly, it’s becoming harder each day after the way this debate was scuttled at the last minute. I am due an apology.

I am going to make a last-minute, good-faith offer for the three major candidates, or ALL FIVE candidates if that is your preference, to meet for a debate sponsored by Society of Professional Journalists. EVERYONE will be in the loop. You may expect that formal proposal today. I hope you’ll agree it’s something the voters are entitled to. I will bend over backwards to find a venue if they can agree on a day and hour.

RTB

Regardless of who’s right in this circus, it’s clear the hurt feelings are real. But what else looks real is the suspicion that the Boustany campaign really doesn’t want to show up for a debate. They didn’t say yes to the Southwest Tea Party’s debate tonight, they (if you believe Pierce, though you’ll be excused for not doing so) conjured up FreedomWorks as a bogeyman preventing their participation in Monday’s forum at ULL and they’re not currently scheduled to make the McNeese event Wednesday, either.

When you’re not going to any of the debates, you create the impression you don’t want to go to any of them.

And that’s strange, because Boustany isn’t a dummy. He’s pretty good on TV, and there is no reason why he wouldn’t give a good accounting of himself in a debate. Yes, Landry has made himself famous for his ability to come off as a cross between Perry Mason and Justin Wilson, and yes, he might be an inconvenient debate opponent. But if you’re going to run for office, the public expects you to engage in a debate. Not showing up makes it look like you’re not willing to give the public an informed choice.

Boustany’s a solid congressman. There’s nothing wrong with him. He can hold his own. He should take Buckman up on his offer – even if he does so on the condition that nobody at ULL have anything whatsoever to do with organizing the details of the debate given past performance.

You can’t have a debate for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives without the two major candidates in the race debating each other. That’s insane. Boustany has to know it’s his responsibility to be there for at least one of them.

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