Protesters question Walorski-Coleman debate schedule

Published: Oct. 5, 2016 at 6:08 PM EDT
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The lack of debate in Indiana's 2nd District congressional race is sparking protest.

A dozen protesters gathered outside Rep. Jackie Walorski's (R-2nd) lunchtime speaking engagement with the South Bend Rotary Club at Century Center Wednesday. They carried signs that read "Special Interest Jackie!!" and "She talks to Lobbyists not to voters!"

"Jackie said in 2010 that she should have six debates against then-incumbent Joe Donnelly. I was a Joe Donnelly supporter, but I thought she had the right position at the time, now she changes her position as the incumbent and says she only wants to have these little junior debates," said Dan Kane, a protester.

The only debate on the fall 2016 calendar is scheduled to take place November 1 and broadcast over the radio waves of WKUZ in Wabash, Indiana. The debate is not open to the public or to the media and is drawing criticism from local Democrats who say its host may be biased, and only reachable by those living in the southernmost part of the district.

Bill Ruppel is a former Republican member of the Indiana House of Representatives representing District 22 from 1992 to 2010. Ruppel is also the WKUZ-selected moderator of the Walorski-Coleman debate.

In a phone interview, Ruppel told NewsCenter 16 he "guarantees" it will be a fair debate.

"I'm hoping whoever wins the Congress seat will represent everybody. I don't want somebody that's just going to represent South Bend and the big cities and forget about Miami County and Wabash County," Ruppel explained.

The debate will feature nine questions divided into three categories: the economy, veterans' affairs and foreign relations, and the environment/miscellaneous.

WKUZ is accepting questions from the public which will be screened for targeting and forwarded to the two candidates. Ruppel will then select nine of those questions to feature in the radio debate.

Anyone can submit questions to, including their name and city.

IUSB and WNIT both offered to host events, but Coleman's campaign said they didn't hear from Walorski's camp until September 30th and there was little public commitment to joint events. Both candidates will participate in a WNIT forum where they'll be asked the same questions but interviewed separately and before the segment airs.

"You need to know that I think the whole debate schedule has been disrespectful to voters," said Democratic candidate for the 2nd District, Lynn Coleman.

"We're trying to represent the people of the 2nd District, 800,000 people okay, that want to hear from the people proposing to represent them and for Jackie to say that it's not important of her to debate, to stand on a stage so that the people of the community, the people that we represent ask us questions to understand what we stand for, how we feel about certain issues I think is not only disrespectful, I think it's deplorable," Coleman added.

NewsCenter 16 caught up with Rep. Walorski Wednesday afternoon who gave the following brief statement when asked about the limited debate schedule:

"I think both committees have gotten together, the campaign committees have certainly agreed on what the format is going to be so you know I think we're doing everything we can," Walorski explained.

But Coleman camped, vehemently disagrees.

"We didn't agree to that that's what she said she would do," said Coleman, "our contention has always been we would talk to anyone in this district at any time 51:19 she was asked to speak at several different events, she's not shown up, she's not been responsive to anyone in this district. For her to say we agreed to that, that is not true."

Coleman said he'll continue to do grassroots campaigning by visiting and revisiting each county in the district to spread his message of serving the undeserved.

Meanwhile, Walorski says: "We engage thousands of people every year we're all over this district and I think we wanted to make sure we got to the south and we got to the north and it seems that that's what both sides agreed to."