The debate on whether the Legislative District 26 Senate candidates will debate has become like a cash cow for The Range. Every few weeks, there’s a new development, a new promise and a new complaint, but we still haven’t seen a debate.
We thought the good times were coming to an end, though, when Dave Perry, the editor and publisher of the Explorer newspaper, set up something that both candidates agreed on: a nonpartisan debate hosted by the paper between state Sen. Al Melvin and his rematch contestant, Democrat Cheryl Cage.
Perry says he wanted to run the debate himself to make sure it was fair and informative and didn’t get hijacked by either party or any special-interest groups.
Melvin apparently trusted Perry to do just that, and wrote a confirmation email saying, “Dave, Count me in. I’m sure you will give this a lot of thought and that you will do your utmost to make the event fair and balanced.”
But Melvin now says he won’t attend the debate unless his two new requirements are met: 1) The debate also includes the three House of Representatives candidates. and 2) it is held at one of four places he has chosen.
“I attempted to put together a debate between the two Senate candidates, and they both initially agreed to do it but on further reflection Senator Melvin has concerns about the venue and he has concerns about not including the House candidates,” Perry says.
“I would prefer, frankly, not a public high school,” Melvin said when we tracked him down at the GOP Unity Rally over the weekend. “(Because of) the AEA (Arizona Education Association). Every year they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat everybody in this room.”
Perry says he might consider changing the venue to accommodate Melvin, but he has no interest in inviting the candidates for the House of Representatives race.
“I said I wanted a debate between the two of them… I did not want to bring in the House candidates. I believe that those forums where there are five or six people—they’re not debates,” he says.
Cage, who has been trying to get her debate on since long before the primary election, has had about enough. She says she will be at Mountain View High School on Sept. 30, whether Melvin shows up or not.
“The bottom line is it’s not that complicated,” Cage says. “You put your dress shirt on, you get in your car, you drive to the public high school and you have a public debate to share with the voters your views.”
“I will not be manipulated by this man,” she continues. “He’s manipulating the voters, he’s manipulating the press in order to not have to defend his horrific voting record.”
For his part, Perry says he just wants to get balanced information out, like the newspaper is supposed to.
“This race, in and of itself, is of enormous significance," Perry says. "I don’t care who wins, it’s just of enormous significance.”