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Nonpartisan Election Debate Panel Urged


SACRAMENTO — With prospects of gubernatorial debates before the Nov. 8 election dimming, the leader of the state Senate on Thursday proposed creating a nonpartisan commission that would sponsor such debates.

"The public wants to see and hear their candidates," said state Senate President Pro Tem Bill Lockyer. "This commission will give us an official mechanism to encourage debates and make sure voters have the opportunity to see their candidates discuss the issues and not just hide behind 30-second paid commercials."

The Hayward Democrat said the proposal is rooted in the apparent inability of his fellow Democrat, state Treasurer Kathleen Brown, and Republican Gov. Pete Wilson to agree to terms of a joint appearance.

Lockyer's plan is modeled after the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, set up by the Democratic and Republican parties, and designed to make debates a permanent part of the election process. Lockyer hopes to give the state commission added power by requiring an asterisk or notation next to candidates' names in election materials to indicate whether they agreed to participate in a commission-sponsored event.

Lockyer said he would formally introduce next year his constitutional amendment, requiring voters' approval, to create a seven-member debate panel.

Membership would include representatives of the print and electronic media, higher education, a national organization such as the League of Women Voters with experience sponsoring political debates, and a consumer group that monitors elections, such as Common Cause.

H.D. Palmer, a Wilson campaign aide, said the governor shares Lockyer's sense of frustration "because we have been prepared to hold a statewide televised debate."

Steve Glazer, a senior adviser to Brown, hailed the concept as an "outstanding idea" but quickly added it is "too bad it is not in effect today in order to force Pete Wilson to debate his failed record as governor these past four years."

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